2013 NYC Marathon Recap

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Fifteen years ago, I was a senior at the High School for Performing and Visual Arts in Houston. I was a music and film geek at a school with no P.E. class, and I had long since abandoned my days of kiddie tennis and basketball at the local Jewish Community Center. In other words…not what one would call “in shape”. But I started taking regular (albeit very short) jogs around Memorial Park, trying to keep up some semblance of physical fitness.

While on one of my jogs, I met a guy named Robert, who had been running considerably longer than I. He was a ready conversationalist, especially for someone talking to an insecure, self-deprecating teenager. We chatted about religion, philosophy, and life in general, and he did his best to give advice about the years ahead. I don’t remember how it came up, but one of us mentioned the idea of running a marathon. You must understand, I was simply trying to make it a single mile without feeling out of breath and deathly fatigued. Robert, meanwhile, was running multiple three-mile loops around the park without batting an eyelash.

I don’t remember what was said exactly, but I remember expressing awe at the idea of running 26.2 miles. Robert, sensing my self-doubt, simply looked at me and said, “You could do it.” I blinked for a moment before shaking my head and saying something to the effect of “Never gonna happen.”

Of course I said this because, like most teenagers, I didn’t know shit. But like so many running novices, I was also using my current performance as a barometer of any and all things possible. Which is why I have the same response whenever someone tells me that they could never run even a mile: “Start small. And take joy in every improvement.”

The latter, I feel, is even more crucial than the former. I’m a naturally competitive person, so I’ll admit that there’s a pot-and-kettle element here. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve found myself more at odds with a hyper-competitive society that not only assigns intrinsic self-worth to materialistic metrics (i.e. salary, trophy count, house size) but also seems hell-bent on achieving as much as possible as SOON as possible. Forethought isn’t easy to come by, and it’s tough to appreciate the simple joys of a long, involved journey.

But improvement in any endeavor requires an acceptance that the process can often be slow. There’s nothing wrong with looking forward and striving for improvement, but to me, the end-goal should not be a perpetual, solitary fixation. Just a few months after meeting Robert, I remember the pride and exhilaration I felt when I finally made it around the entire three-mile loop without a break. That was proof that I could run a 5K! And I didn’t need to think at all about a marathon. For now, this was enough.

It would be another eight years before I made the decision to attempt a triathlon. A friend of mine told me about Team in Training (TNT), which operates through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I could raise funds towards research and treatment for blood cancers while training for events and meeting people from all around the greater Houston area. Sounded great to me! My maternal grandmother, Seretta, passed from lymphoma when I was only 14, and I loved working some altruism into my self-involved pursuit! Although weather forced the main event — the 2007 Cap Tex Triathlon — to be cancelled, I managed to participate in two sprint-distance triathlons. And I met several friends that I still correspond with today.

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After moving to New York, I decided to continue my efforts with TNT, and I signed up for the 2008 Rock n’ Roll Half-Marathon in San Diego. Once again, there was that voice: “Rich, sure you ran a few 5Ks as part of the triathlons. But we’re talking 13.1 miles.” And once again, I had to remind myself to take small steps. I was living on the Lower East Side, so many of those small steps were taken over the Williamsburg Bridge, which offered killer built-in hill training!

Five months later, I was standing in the San Diego sun, basking in the glory of my first half-marathon. And as I leaned forward to catch my breath, I looked to my side and saw the full-marathoners…smiling and gliding past me as I huffed and puffed. I was thinking, how the hell are they still upright? And of course, I immediately found my next goal. But for now, this was enough.

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Fast-forward four years to 2012. I had since moved to Brooklyn, so I began training with the Brooklyn-based TNT chapter. I had trained hard to run the NYC Marathon, but I hit a major stumbling-block when I sustained a raging IT-band injury that prevented me from running even 30 seconds without extreme pain in my left knee. Even had Hurricane Sandy not happened, I would have missed the race, and I seriously doubted my body had the ability to get through a full marathon. But no doubt I sustained this injury because I over-trained, so this year, I decided to make damn sure I reached the starting line injury-free (even if it meant under-training a little).

But in the meantime, I had so many great memories from training with the Brooklyn team. We did runs in the Palisades in New Jersey. We ran to Coney Island and jumped in the water at the finish. We ran the Bay Ridge Promenade in 80-degree weather and with no shade. And on the day the 2012 NYC Marathon would have happened, we drove out to Staten Island to help families whose homes were damaged or outright destroyed by Sandy.

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So many great memories that motivated me to return the following year. During the off-season, though, I thought about ways in which I could avoid injury while still preparing myself aerobically for the race. One of the best decisions I made was to start doing cardio kickboxing in March. From then until June — when training season began — I spent time slimming down and building a little bulk through the kickboxing and some light lifting. This added variety to my workouts and ensured that I still stayed relatively fit. Thus by the time I started training for the marathon, I already had a good base of cardiovascular fitness and core strength, such that transitioning into a few mildly longer runs was not as big a deal.

Of course, the upper-body weight-training had to go, because I wasn’t going to add extra bulk to carry around for 26.2 miles. But I continued to do some light leg weights. And rather than do several shorter runs during the week, I did far more kickboxing, which still gave me good cardio with the bonus of little to no impact on my legs, knees, and back. I’m sure this had a HUGE role in getting me to race day healthy.

I had a mild scare four weeks before the race during a 12-mile run, when my left foot flared up so badly that I had to stop running altogether and could barely walk without pain. Thankfully, x-rays showed no evidence of a developing stress fracture or fasciitis. Most likely, it was very mild tendonitis, because some prescription cream took care of it in a matter of days, and I was back to running with no pain.

My last long run was the 2013 Staten Island Half. I was thrilled to be joined by my wife Amanda, who after a skiing accident told herself that running any significant distance simply wasn’t possible. Amanda crossed the finish line and is now even pondering running the NYC Marathon next year. Once again, small steps.

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Following Staten Island, I mostly rested and got in a few shorter runs and kickboxing sessions. I also ate like crazy! Not just the standard carbo-loading (pasta, rice and beans, etc), but lots and lots of eggs and avocados. I’ve gone kind of avocado-crazy during the last year, and I love using them as a recovery food.

But I was nervous as all hell the day before the race. Although I knew I needed to take in plenty of calories, I felt I could barely eat. A million questions ran through my mind: Did I train enough? What if I get sick? What if I suddenly need to use the restroom? Do I have enough fuel for the race? What if I have to walk part of the way? And worst of all…what if I can’t finish?

Thank goodness my family decided to fly in to distract me and tell me to calm down and enjoy it. I expected my parents, but to my surprise, my brother Andrew showed up as well! We had a quick dinner (PASTA!!!), and then I called it an early night.

The next thing I knew, my alarm clock was ringing. It was 4 a.m. on Sunday, November 3, 2013, and I had to haul my ass out of bed and get ready for the longest run of my life. After getting dressed and grabbing my gear, I said goodbye to Amanda and made my way onto the deserted streets of Brooklyn Heights.

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As soon as I felt the cold air hit my skin, I knew it would be a tough morning. The weather was unseasonably cold (wind chill in the 30s), and I wasn’t looking forward to spending hours at the starting line, standing around shivering. After getting into a cab, I chatted with the cabbie about the race. He was curious about the route, and I was describing it to him when we crossed Fourth Avenue. “In a few hours, I’ll be running past this very point,” I said.

The NYPD was already out, getting ready to barricade the streets. This is really happening, I thought. I’ve worked for years to run this race, and the day is finally here. I exited the cab at 9th St at Prospect Park West to meet up with my TNT teammates and take a bus across the Verrazano Bridge to the starting line in Staten Island (before traffic was completely shut down at 7 a.m.).

On the bus, my teammates David and Marcie put my fears at ease and helped to remind me to enjoy the race and soak in the atmosphere. My first taste of that atmosphere came when we got to the starting village at the foot of the Verrazano. There’s something special about being part of such a multinational event. While waiting for my 10:30 start, I chatted with other runners from Germany, Australia, France, and the UK, to name a few.

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Unfortunately, that good feeling was tempered by the bitterly cold and windy weather. I was huddled in one of the runners’ tents with several other TNT members, doing my best to stay warm and distract myself from nerves. I also made several trips to the restroom, because during my Staten Island Half run, I unexpectedly had to take a Porta Potty break, and I did NOT want that to happen again. I checked my fuel (loads and loads of Clif and Honey Stinger energy chews), and I kept drinking little sips of Gatorade to make sure I was sufficiently hydrated.

In the tent, I chatted with Suzanne, another TNT teammate, who grew up in Birmingham, UK and is co-owner of the Brooklyn-based Chip Shop (where I first mustered the gumption to try haggis!). She had already run the race once before, and she helped allay my fears while making me laugh and distracting me from how friggin’ nervous I really was. Oh yes, and you see the garish colors on my hat? Dunkin’ Donuts was handing them out. Eventually, the entire tent resembled an advertising parade.

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Finally, 9:40 came, and it was time for me to load into my starting corral. The lines were HUGE!! And of course, when I finally made it in, I had to use the restroom once more. I waited a good 15-20 minutes before I could make it in, and when I exited, I heard someone yelling that if we didn’t make it to the starting line now, we’d likely not go out until the next wave. So I ran. Yeah, I ran. I’ve been trying to save myself for 26.2 miles, and now I’m running before I’m running.

But I did make it, and I decided it was time to abandon the throwaway warm-up pants and sweater I had brought. I tossed them aside, and made my way to the foot of the bridge. I kept telling myself, “Don’t make the mistake of going out too fast!!! You’ve got a long run ahead of you, and you need to conserve!” The starting gun went off, and everyone cheered. And as I crossed the starting line, I felt a little relieved. All the anxiety of anticipation was now behind me, and I could just focus on the race.

And things started out not-so-pretty. It’s bad enough that you have to start on a mile-long incline (up the Verrazano). But add to that the blast of 15-20 m.p.h. gusts and you have the perfect recipe for a slow, awkward start. The bright side? An amazing view of the Hudson River and Gravesend Bay. And a chance to wave to the police in the NYPD helicopters, who I’m sure had far better things to do than watch me wave.

I saw runners flying past me, and I had a momentary impulse to accelerate and keep up with the crowd. But I also remembered that I’d done similarly in previous races, and it ended up costing me. It’s tough to lag behind while seemingly everyone is moving ahead of you, but I reminded myself, “This is a 26.2 mile race. You don’t win it during Mile 1. And most likely, these speedsters won’t be so speedy by the end of the race.” So I let myself off the hook, relaxed, and kept a nice, easy pace.

When I got to Mile 1 on the bridge, I checked my watch. Just about 11 minutes in. Perfect. I had run the Staten Island Half in an average of just under 10 minutes per mile, so I wanted to be sure I started off a good bit slower than that. As I crossed into Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the wind was replaced by the sounds of spectators cheering from overpasses on the Gowanus Expressway! Endless cries of “Welcome to Brooklyn!” That and lots of runners urinating in the grassy areas by the foot of the bridge.

I must admit, I was concerned during Miles 2-3. I felt incredibly sluggish and heavy. But I kept reminding myself that I’d been there before: it was just my legs coming to life, and the cold and wind was most likely delaying the process even longer than normal. I was on the Green Route, so I ran near Fort Hamilton Pkwy for a while before passing the 5K point to make the turn onto Fourth Ave, the major thoroughfare that takes up Miles 4-8 of the race.

Here’s when I finally found a groove. My legs felt much more compliant now, so I could relax and soak in the atmosphere. Around Mile 4 or 5, I passed what was by far my favorite musical act: a Spanish-speaking rock band performing “Achy Breaky Heart.” That’s when I knew I was back in my favorite borough. People of different races, ethnicities, ages, and religious groups met us along the way, thus reminding me why I love Brooklyn so much. All this was to be expected, given Bay Ridge’s rich history of immigrant families, but just seeing so many different backgrounds come together in unison was quite inspiring.

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I then bumped into my friend Aaron, who’s also in TNT and works as a composer and piano performer. We figured out that we were both trying to maintain the same pace, so we hung out together. Both of us made sure that we stopped at every hydration station and picked up some water and/or Gatorade. And I also made sure to scarf down three energy chews when my watch hit 45 minutes. The plan was to refuel every 30 minutes thereafter.

I can’t overstress how nice it was to be familiar with the course. I’ve had plenty of time during my six years in the NYC area to explore Brooklyn, and as we got into Sunset Park, I realized we were close to my single favorite place to eat in the city (Ba Xuyên, the bánh mì shop at 43rd and 8th). I wasn’t thinking about food, thank goodness, but passing by familiar landmarks helps make the run just a little easier.

As we continued into Park Slope, I knew I had to start paying attention. Amanda, my parents, and my brother, were planning to meet me somewhere around Mile 7 or 8. I stopped when I reached one of the fluid stations, and I was sipping some water, I heard, “RIIICH!!!!” I turned to see my brother on the west side of Fourth Ave, across the median from where I was running. Too far away to give a high five, but I smiled and yelled back. He pointed back in the opposite direction, and I turned to see the rest of the crew jumping and cheering. Just friggin’ awesome!

As I passed Atlantic Ave Terminal (the main subway hub in Brooklyn), I prepared to make the turn onto Lafayette Ave, which would put me right around Mile 8. There, I unexpectedly ran into several of my TNT teammates and coaches! I high-fived them, and Aaron and I met up again after a brief split. This section of the course — which winds through the neighborhoods of Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, and Bed-Stuy — Aaron described as his favorite. I now understand why. The crowds were by far the rowdiest in the borough, and we saw several awesome signs along the way. We saw high-school bands, DJs, rappers, and mock-punk bands, to name a few. We also passed by one of my favorite doughnut shops in the city.

Most of all, I noticed that I was having absolutely no problems running anymore. I felt like I could go on forever, and the energy of the crowd was infectious. I asked Aaron how he was feeling. He said, “Fine. Just waiting for the race to really begin. We’ve got four more bridges…”

Now, understand that I knew ahead of time how long this race was. But I was blissfully in the present moment. And I wasn’t about to let anything temper that. I didn’t dismiss what Aaron said. It’s just that in the excitement of the moment, I didn’t really hear him. But more on that to come…

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We turned north onto Bedford Ave to make our way into Williamsburg (erstwhile hipster haven) past Mile 10. I continued to hydrate at every fluid station, and I ate energy chews at the correct intervals. I saw several more TNT teammates both on the course and on the sidelines, and each cheer made me feel even more euphoric. Miles 11 and 12 found us in Greenpoint, the last neighborhood before the cross-over into Queens. Greenpoint is a predominantly Polish neighborhood, and I ran by another two of my favorite eateries: Lomzynianka (killer white borscht) and Peter Pan (my favorite doughnuts in the city). Damn!! Reading over all these food descriptions, it’s a wonder I was able to stay focused during the race.

The most random and awesome thing I saw here was a group of five people boasting something to make any Game of Thrones fan happy. As we prepared to say goodbye to Brooklyn, I could see the Pulaski Bridge up ahead. Soon I would hit the half-marathon point.

And this was when the first pangs of reality started to creep in. I’ve already been out here for a long time, I thought. A little over two-and-a-quarter hours gone. And it dawned on me that everything I had just done, I would have to do AGAIN. And now, I was no longer fresh.

The crowds in Long Island City, Queens were awesome, but suddenly, I was no longer as interested in taking in the atmosphere. Now, I could only hear the words of my coaches ringing in my ears: “The race doesn’t begin until Mile 15.” As we finished the short Queens portion of the course, I prepared for the stress and strain of running the half-mile incline over the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan. This is where Aaron and I split, as I felt I needed to pull back a bit to conserve energy. The first real wave of fatigue was starting to hit, and I tried as hard as I could not to remember that I still had 11 miles to go.

The apex of the bridge was quiet. Too quiet. I was too much in my headspace, and I needed to come back to focusing on just one mile at a time. Just get to the bottom of the bridge, I told myself. I had told my family to meet me there at the corner of 59th St at 1st Ave, and as I headed down the bridge, I prepared to look for them. All of a sudden, the silence of the bridge was replaced by the crescendo of the approaching Manhattan crowds. As I exited the bridge at Mile 16, I saw my family and smiled and waved. After the race, they said I “still looked good”. I only wished I felt the same way.

The din of the crowd was otherwordly. If I were not so concerned about the next 10 miles, I would have felt like a rock star and basked a bit more in the moment. As was, I put more of my energy into continuing up First Ave into the Upper East Side. But even though I was hydrating and fueling regularly, I could feel my body (and arguably more important, my mind) slowing down. I’m not sure if my under-training played a part here, but for whatever reason, I knew I needed to take things as easy as possible.

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The next milestone I set for myself was Mile 18. I had never run farther than that, and I knew I’d get a little psychological boost from realizing that I’d crossed over into the longest run of my life. When Mile 18 hit — just short of Harlem — I allowed myself a mini-celebration in my mind, and I grabbed some power gels from the fueling station. I decided to have one now and save the other for later.

A brief digression, if I may. I’m a huge tennis fan. And as I’ve come to understand the mental aspects of the game more closely, I’ve marveled at the pros’ ability to turn outrageously long matches into “mini-matches” that they could win one step at a time. In a best-of-three-set match, if a player is down a set and 2-0, that player doesn’t think about winning the match; all that player thinks about is turning 2-0 into 2-2. Yes, the end-goal is winning the match. But if you get ahead of yourself, you’re apt to lose concentration and allow the opponent to go on cruise-control to victory. If you can manage to take that small step and close the gap in that second set, you must allow yourself a little catharsis, however small, to reward yourself for a job well done.

Immediately after, though, comes what I feel is the toughest part. You have to say, “Alright, celebration over. You’ve reached that mini-milestone, and it’s great that you’re happy about it. But time to put it behind you and regroup for the next step.” I honestly don’t know how the pros do it after hours of driving their bodies into the ground. I’ve seen so many matches in which a player stages a comeback, celebrates, and then has nothing left going forward. Before the player knows it, the final set is over, 6-0 or 6-1.

And not two minutes had passed after Mile 18 before I was right back where I started two miles ago. Now, I couldn’t hear the crowd at all, because the physical fatigue meant that I now needed to put tremendous mental effort into each stride. Any energy spent thinking about the crowd meant a setback. It was disappointing, because I really wanted to soak in the atmosphere, but ultimately, this was about finishing the race, so I had to forget about any disappointment and move on.

Now I was into uncharted territory. I was past the point of my longest previous run, and I had to accept that I had no idea what would happen. Around Mile 19, I got a brief pick-me-up when Jessica, a friend and former co-worker, appeared around 115th St to high-five me. Seeing a familiar face was exactly what I needed, and it helped propel me forward as I got ready to cross the Willis Ave Bridge into the Bronx.

Shortly before I hit the bridge, I got another crucial pick-me-up when I ran into Syed, one of the coaches from TNT. He asked how I was doing. I shook my hand and went, “…eh…”. What I really wanted to say was, “IT HURTS!!! MAKE IT STOP!!!” But I played it as cool as I could. If “cool” is the right word.

Syed then offered me a packet of salt. I had been taking in a lot of Gatorade and energy chews with sodium, but I had heard enough stories about runners being hospitalized due to hyponatremia, and they scared the crap out of me, so I figured a little more could only help. I tried desperately to ignore the nasty taste as I let the salt hit my tongue. Syed immediately gave me some water to wash it down, and I gave him a thumbs-up (as close to a “thank you” as I could muster) and continued onward.

As I crossed over the Willis Ave Bridge, I felt I was getting some wind back in my sails. I was back to a relaxed state, just taking things one step at a time, and I was even able to enjoy the crowds a little. And as I rounded the corner from Willis Ave onto 135th St, there it was! The Mile 20 sign!!! I couldn’t help myself: I smiled and said “Holy fucking shit” before I even realized it was out of my mouth.

The human mind’s an interesting thing; one might not think that the simple sight of a number can lift one’s spirit. But I can’t overstate the power of seeing that zero. Yes, I teach and tutor math for a living, so I have a passionate (some would say pathological) penchant for number properties. But we’re a decimal-based society, so any multiple of 10 carries significant psychological moment for any of us. And I suddenly felt somewhat close to how I felt well back in Brooklyn. They were handing out banana slices immediately after the Mile 20 marker, so I grabbed one and had the other energy gel before taking some more water and moving on.

Yeah…remember what I said about allowing yourself a little mini-celebration and then getting back to business? I found it not-so-easy to suddenly forget the elation of getting past Mile 20. And it was a few minutes before I suddenly remembered another axiom I had heard during my training: “The half-way point of a marathon…is 20 miles.” Let me tell you: it’s true. It’s painfully, PAINFULLY true.

Now, my mental reserves felt almost entirely shot. Maybe I put too much stock in passing Mile 20, but regardless, my body felt like it was now going into shut-down, and the mental effort to move forward felt exponentially greater. Thank goodness another TNT coach, Aimee, was there to run a little with me between Miles 20 and 21. I didn’t have enough energy to answer her questions, but I did let her know I had taken salt from Syed a few miles before. She simply ran with me as I was silent, and she urged me onward towards the Madison Ave Bridge, the final bridge and the cross-over back into Manhattan.

I passed Mile 21, and I tried to give myself a boost by reminding myself that I was back in Manhattan for good, and all I had to do was run back towards Central Park. Perhaps even more crucially, I could start counting DOWN miles. I tried to forget that 5 miles is not exactly close. Especially when you’ve already run 21. I gave Aimee an okay sign with my right hand, and she went back to helping other team runners.

The next big milestone I set for myself was Marcus Garvey Park, just south of 125th St in Harlem. Not only is it right around the Mile 22 marker but it was where I was standing with friends to cheer two years earlier, and I remember imagining what it would be like to run the race and reach that point. I knew that if I could get there, I wouldn’t help but feel pride and accomplishment.

The only problem was, I was entering a mental space that I really can’t put to words without doing it disservice.

Another brief digression: I’m not religious, but I think it’s undeniable that under extraordinary conditions that put tremendous stress on the body and mind, one can feel as if one is experiencing reality detached from one’s body. Call it “transcendence” if you want to, but I don’t feel any language does it justice. And since I was running on empty, both physically and mentally, I felt as if I was now in such a state.

Biologically, this is what is known very commonly as “hitting the wall” or “bonking”, and it’s extremely common after Mile 20. The glycogen reserves in my liver were most likely gone, and I felt suddenly that no number of shot blocks or energy gels could remedy anything. I felt almost numb to the pain in my legs, and the simple act of taking steps was now completely automatic, almost unconscious. My body was telling me to stop, but I had to use whatever mental energy I had to override that response and keep moving.

Shortly before Mile 22, I was happy to see Amy, another TNT coach, approaching me to run along side and give me more salt. She reminded me, “You’ve worked two years for this” and “One mile at a time” and “If I see you after the race, drinks are on me!” She ran with me until we reached Marcus Garvey Park, and I did myself well by imagining myself two years prior as I passed the very spot on which I stood in 2011.

On that day, I remember seeing a runner pass Mile 22 and then scream out in pain as he cramped severely in one of his legs. I wasn’t proud to use schadenfreude to my advantage here, but I used the fact that I hadn’t cramped at all to help push me into the 23rd mile. I waved goodbye to Amy, and I told myself, “Just four miles to go!” In reality, though, each mile was feeling like five, and I could find little comfort anymore in a countdown.

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Around Mile 23, one of the TNT mentors, Amanda, called me out and snapped a picture of me, giving me another momentary reprieve. But as I reached the next fluid station, I had an unpleasant realization: as painful as running had now become, stopping felt infinitely worse. As soon as I stood still, I could feel my legs buckle. This was more than fatigue. It felt as if my body was interpreting this as “He’s finally listening to reason and cutting this bullshit out.”

So when I finished drinking the Gatorade and started to move my legs again, it felt as if I was anchored by massive lead blocks. “You fucking asshole!!” I could hear my legs saying. So I had to make a conscious decision: this would be my last fluid station stop. I don’t know how I was able to think straight, but it seemed clear to me that with only three miles to go, the return-of-investment on any fluid intake would be negligible, especially when weighed against the liabilities.

Finally, I reached 90th St, where the course diverts off of Fifth Avenue and into Central Park. I took comfort in knowing that the Mile 24 sign was just ahead. Where is it? A few more minutes passed. Where the fuck is it??!! Let me tell you: not seeing that sign felt like drowning when you’re just meters away from the ocean surface, and for whatever reason, you continually half your distance to the surface, but can never quite seem to make it. Zeno, you suck!

But I eventually hit the 24 mile mark, and I could tell myself that a 2.2-mile run was all that was left. Would that it were as simple as that, but at that point, I’d take anything. By now, I was becoming acutely aware that I was not only fatigued but light-headed and nauseated. I wasn’t happy about it, but I decided that if I didn’t stop and walk a little, I would vomit, faint, or both. I had been pushing through pain, but I think one of my biggest accomplishments of the day was recognizing, even in my mentally compromised state, that pushing past pain could now be dangerous.

I stopped to walk, and for a brief moment, I got very scared, because I felt nauseated and could feel my body go a little numb. I was very worried that I might not be able to even walk anymore and that I might, even after coming all this way, not finish the race. You can imagine my relief, then, when the nausea passed, and I felt I could start to run a little again.

Now, I was close enough that I felt justified in using the end of the race as a motivator. I imagined laughing about this moment in only a half-hour. I pictured myself exchanging stories with fellow TNT members. And most important, I pictured being with my family over dinner reminiscing about the day and marveling at the accomplishment.

After passing the Mile 25 marker, I knew I could now be on the lookout for Central Park South, which represents the final push towards the finish line. The good news was that I could see the buildings that line the south side of the park along 59th St. The bad news is that running towards them felt like chasing the horizon.  But again, whenever I started to feel numb or nauseated, I stopped to walk.

A word of advice if you’re ever a spectator at a place near the finish line but not super-close: do NOT under ANY circumstances yell out the phrase “You’re almost there.” No I’m not. When you’re struggling just to move, there is no “almost there”. There’s only “finished” and “not finished”. I heard several people yell out “You’re almost there”, and every time I heard it, I pictured the proverbial rabbit running on a treadmill chasing the dangling carrot stick. Don’t make my pain worse!

But as I saw the Plaza Hotel and the giant Apple Store cube on the southeast side of the park, I knew I was less than a mile away from the finish. I turned onto Central Park South, and I was greeted one final time by my family. My brother wanted me to come over and high-five him, but I waved my hand, trying as best I could to suggest something along the lines of, “If I don’t focus solely on getting to this fucking finish line, I’m going to drop.”

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As I neared Columbus Circle, on the southwest side of the park, I saw the sign signalling that there was just a half-mile to go! Now, at least, I knew I would finish. I was still hurting, but I knew that I no longer had to worry about dropping out of the race. Then came the 800-yard sign. I made the final turn northward towards Tavern on the Green, and…

…a small suggestion to those who set up marathon courses: don’t put up a Mile 26 sign. Just…don’t do it! The yardage signs are enough. And they count down! Let me tell you, when you see that Mile 26 sign and realize you’re still not finished, even a simple 0.2 miles farther seems insulting and just downright sadistic! Screw the mile marker and let us continue counting down the yardage!

But anyway…yeah, I got over my momentary indignation and found the 400 yard sign. Then the 200! I did my best to smile for the oncoming cameras, and I held my arms up in a pathetic faux-victory pose and crossed the finish line with a time of 5 hours, 4 minutes even.

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I wish I could tell you that I felt ecstasy, or even relief. But I really couldn’t feel anything. Not only was I tapped out, but I was cold. Really really cold. And it didn’t help that I had to stand in line to get through the crowd and take what seemed to be an obligatory post-race photo. I met up with Aaron shortly afterwards, and I mentioned that I wasn’t feeling well. I give him credit for suggesting that I head to the medical tent. I really didn’t want to, but in that low-40s wind chill weather, I could feel that my upper body felt drained of any and all warmth.

So I headed straight to the medical tent, and they propped my feet up, draped me in blankets, and gave me hot cocoa. My vital signs thankfully showed no abnormalities, so I just stayed supine for another 15-20 minutes. Afterwards, I left the tent and met up with my family. Amanda had a change of clothes and a bagel with cream cheese waiting for me, and I spent the rest of the evening with my family over dinner and sparkling conversation.

And all the while, I was thinking back to my encounter with Robert, when I was taking those small jogs in Memorial Park, just trying to remain upright for a single mile. Robert…you were right! It just took me fifteen years to prove it. And along the way, I raised upwards of $10,000 for blood cancer research and treatment! I’d like to think my grandmother Seretta would be proud.

And I have to express a big, heartfelt thank you! Thank you to my TNT teammates and coaches! Thank you to anyone who donated during my many races! Thank you to my family and friends! Thank you to the crowds of NYC for urging me on during the race!

Now, the question on everyone’s mind seems to be when (not if) I’ll do my next marathon. On the day of the race, I was convinced that the answer was “Never!” But just yesterday, Amanda — who might possibly tackle the NYC Marathon next year — urged me to get my winter running gear on and head out in 30-degree weather for my first run since the race.

Since I no longer had to worry about getting injured or getting winded too quickly, I ran at almost sprint pace across our neighborhood and over the Brooklyn Bridge. I stopped briefly to chat with Amanda, and I said, “I’m trying to see if a faster pace is possible.” She smiled and said, “You’re not done with this, are you?”

Time will tell…

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Soderling vs. Nadal – 2009 French Open

In case you missed the upset of a lifetime, here’s the match in its entirety.  Robin Soderling does the unthinkable and hands Rafael Nadal his first loss ever at Roland Garros.  Nadal had won the previous four titles there, a run involving 31 consecutive match wins.

From the 2006 quarterfinals onward, he lost only two sets.  Let me make that clear:  In 20 matches, he only twice allowed an opponent to win ONE set.  Therefore, the idea of one person taking THREE sets off Nadal in the same match seems all the more preposterous.   Not only did Soderling do this, but he did so without having to play a fifth set.  I think this pretty clearly illustrates the magnitude of his accomplishment.  Especially since Nadal manhandled Soderling on clay in Rome barely a month ago, with Nadal conceding only one game!

In a discussion on The Tennis Channel, John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova expectedly labeled the match one of the greatest upsets in tennis history.  But they also brought up a past-era analogy by pointing out Björn Borg, who with Nadal is considered arguably the greatest clay-court player of all-time.  Of the nine French Opens contested between 1973 to 1981, Borg won the title six times and lost only twice (he didn’t play in ’77).  But those two losses were to the same player:  Adriano Panatta, who defeated him in the 1973 round of 16 and the 1976 quarterfinals.  It’s an apt comparison, since Panatta and Soderling both beat men otherwise unbeatable on the Parisian terre battue.

Without further ado, here’s the full match of Soderling def. Nadal, 2009 French Open fourth round, 6-2, 6-7(2), 6-4, 7-6(2):

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Wolverine himself uses Free Comic Book Day to Promote Literacy

Hundreds of thousands of comic book fans across the continent flocked to participating vendors yesterday in celebration of Free Comic Book Day.

Not familiar?  Okay, well, beginning in 2002, a panel of comic-book distributors, retailers, publishers, and suppliers got together and decided to organize an event promoting comic readership. The result was “Free Comic Book Day,” during which comic-book stores across North America would give away free copies of select comics. You can go to the official website for more information and photos from yesterday’s festivities.

As a way to encourage younger readers, Hugh Jackman invited children to take part:

My, how things have changed since the days of Dr. Frederick Wertham, the McCarthy-era crusader who lashed out against comics, deeming them a corrupting force and a danger to America’s youth.  He even went so far as to say that “Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic-book industry.” By 1954, his outrage helped catalyze the development of the Comics Code Authority, a set of mandatory guidelines to which all published comics must conform.

Now, 50 years later, grad students in the arts and social sciences are writing theses on comic books, treating them as (heaven forbid) a legitimate artform.  Titles include “The Pictorial and Linguistic Features of Comic Book Formulas,” “Comic Book Creativity as Displaced Aggression,” and “The Evolution of Social Norms and the Life of Lois Lane.”

Who knew?

The State FINALLY on DVD!!

If you’re a fan of the 90s MTV comedy sketch show The State — which launched the careers of many current members of Reno 911! — your day has finally arrived!

For years, fans petitioned to get a DVD of The State released, and MTV gave various excuses as to why it wouldn’t be commercially viable.  But it appears it’s finally official!  The DVD set will appear in stores on July 14!

If you’re unfamiliar with this lost relic of Gen X pop culture, do yourself a favor and watch a few of the videos below:

One of my favorites, the “International Signs” sketch:

A different kind of copy shop:

A father and son race home…sort of…

Some strained fast-food employee interaction:

And just for fun, the trailer for the DVD, which features excerpts from the kick-ass theme song:

Sesame Street Censored

Remember how the DVD release of the first seasons of Sesame Street came with a warning label that stated the show might not be appropriate for “today’s preschool child”?

Well…here are some reimaginings of familiar Sesame Street moments that might not even be appropriate for adults:

The Count and his favorite hobby:

Bert and Ernie teach the importance of nocturnal hygiene:

Big Bird and Kermit receive medicinal aid:

A couple clips featured on Jimmy Kimmel (brilliant!):

Triptrop provides colorful way to gauge your commute length

I love The Gothamist.  Today, they linked to a spiffy new tool called Triptrop. Here’s how it works:

You type in an address in New York, and it produces an eye-poppingly variegated map of the city letting you know how long it will take to commute to various locations!

As an example, here’s a map with Grand Central as its focal point:

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The creator of this wonder is Jonathan Soma, who lives in Brooklyn.  And Triptrop is not his only brain child.  He also created, among other things, a program that lets you know what everyone in Japan is doing right now, a site for “astronomy porn”, and “Snacksby”, which he describes as “like Macgyver, but for food”.

Fake MTA Advisory Signs

For those of you not in New York, the Metro Transit Authority (MTA) — which runs New York’s subway and bus systems — has been hit hard by the recession, and as a result, it recently announced that monthly passes would increase in cost from $81 to $103.

Still a shitload cheaper than owning a car, which involves paying for gas, oil changes, maintenance, insurance, etc. But understandably, New Yorkers are irked, especially since the fare hike will coincide with service cuts (two subway lines and many more bus lines will disappear completely, and all remaining service will run with diminished frequency).

New Yorkers are taking out there anger in various ways. On the Downtown 4 Train from Harlem, for example, I heard a shabby looking gentleman screaming to anyone who’d listen about “bourgeois bullshit”.

But some are putting their anger to creative use. Last week, The Gothamist reported on some fake advisory signs that were posted in various stations around the city. The centerpiece was this gem, seen at the Metropolitan stop off the G Line:

fake_sign

Sure, the grammar is atrocious, but for some reason, I find that makes it funnier.

Here’s another grammatically incorrect but nonetheless hilarious sign on an unidentified line:

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In searching the Gothamist archives, I also found this story , which links to some more fake signage and also features some hilarious comments from font nerds.

And this site, which let’s you create your own fake subway sign! It’s outdated, but still fun.  And some of the entries in the gallery (linked at the bottom of the page) are just brilliant 🙂

Twitter Haiku

I still don’t get the point of Twitter, but since it’s growing exponentially in popularity, I thought I’d pay tribute with a little haiku.  FYI, I coin the term “Twitt” to refer to a Twitter user.

This is done from the point-of-view of the Twitter punditry:

We shouldn’t be twits
But rather should we be Twitts
Or something betwixt

I’ve also been able to take my initial annoyance at the term “tweet” — which describes updates on Twitter and can be used as both a noun and a verb — and turn it into fun imaginary conjugations.  For example:

“Hey dude, did you send me a tweet?”
“Yeah, man, I totally twoted [tw-oh-ted] you an hour ago.”

By the way, if someone uses Twitter to remind me that I have a lunch appointment with him/her, have I in fact been “tweeted to lunch”?

Or if two opposing factions make amends on Twitter, have they in fact enacted a tweety_bird ?

Okay, maybe I’ll forget I just said those things.  I need some clarity, because at the moment, I’m hopelessly Twitterpated:

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Ray Harryhausen homage through genetic mutations

A friend of mine recently blogged about strange birth defects in animals and included a link to an eye-popping slide show. I took a glance, and I was particularly impressed with the two-faced kittens, the conjoined-twin crocodiles, and the six-legged sheep.

I experienced a little déjà vu, however, when I was introduced to the two-headed tortoise and Cy the one-eyed kitten. I finally came to the realization that I was recalling one my favorite movies growing up…

It was The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, a 1958 Technicolor adventure movie whose monsters and stop-motion animations were conceived by creature-feature ubermeister Ray Harryhausen. (Harryhausen, incidentally, was a major influence on Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings), Joe Dante (Gremlins, Small Soldiers), and Tim Burton.) The film was also scored by Bernard Herrmann — my single favorite film scorer — who wrote the music for Citizen Kane, Psycho, Vertigo, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Taxi Driver, among others.

The following side-by-side comparisons make me think that God is a Harryhausen fan and just wanted to pay a little homage to 7th Voyage of Sinbad by creating these curiosities:

cy_kittenthecyclops3

two_headed_turtle roc

Oh, and here’s a clip of the Cyclops’s first appearance in the film. The clip is chopped up, so it would probably help to know that the little cartwheeling fireball is a prepubescent genie with spiffy magical powers:

Damn, why don’t they make ’em like this anymore?

Anyways, as if that weren’t enough, in gathering the pictures for this post, I stumbled upon this illustration from Seattle artist Robert Rini:

cy_comic

Bad kitty!

Bally Total Fitness wants you to return to the womb!

The following is, I kid you not, a genuine excerpt from a contract with Bally Total Fitness.  You know Bally’s…the club that uses chiseled male torsos and scantily clad women to promise you a rocket body if you just join.

I thought that once the contract showed up, they’d cut the bullshit, since they’re just trying to sign you up as quickly as possible.  But apparently, they really want you to get intimate with their female members.  Intimate…as in inside their birth canals:

“If you have any questions, please call your home club or contact Member cervices.

See you at the club,

Bally Total Fitness”

I could pick on the fact that Bally’s contract writers aren’t spelling-bee champions, but much more fun to assume that all the egregious flirting that goes on in almost every Bally’s I’ve ever walked into — and much more, from what I’ve heard from friends who are Bally’s employees and scout the locker rooms every now and then — is the result of horny members taking the company quite literally at its (misspelled) word.

I could also get pedantic and preach the values of correct spelling, but I think I’ll let the lesson here be:

Never assume that “returning to the womb” is solely metaphorical.