New York City Marathon

To run in the New York City Marathon has been a big goal of mine for the last couple of years, and I have worked really hard, earning the opportunity to be there.  In 2009, after many ultras and slower times, I was able to pull off a 2:53’ on my last marathon of the season, in order to get a guaranteed spot in NYC.  It was a great way to end the year.  Exactly 12 months later, I would be running my last marathon of 2010, in New York City, side by side with my Uncle Nick.

I started planning the trip a few months in advance, since I would have to take days off of school, and arrange where I was going to stay and how to get there etc.  Not only was it a big city race, but also it would be the first time Stephanie and I would be taking a trip together.  I was really excited to show her around NYC. 

Long after booking our flights and everything, Stephanie had to make the very difficult decision to remain at home, because of the injury she suffered earlier in the Fall, at her job, which she was still recovering from.  We were both disappointed that we couldn’t go together, but I would make the most of the trip, given the circumstances.

Before I left home, Stephanie made me a little cardboard version of herself that I could take with me, so we could still be together, at least in photographs.  I wanted to cheer her up, so I planned to take as many pictures with little Flat Stephanie as I could. 

I decided to travel light, only taking my backpack with me.  From past races that included flying, I had learned that less is more, and not to over complicate things by bringing a lot with you.  I flew from Buffalo to JFK in NYC on Thursday evening.  It was relatively simple, getting from the airport to my friend Alanna’s place, where I would be staying, using public transit, at least according to Google Maps I printed before I left. 

While on the subway, I read the notices posted and the announcements being made about the line closure further ahead on the train I was supposed to take.  I got off before the train headed onto a different line and followed the others that were taking the detour via bus.  I got on the bus and was unsure where I needed to get off, but I knew that I was not too far away, based on the map I had and knowing which station I exited the subway. 

When I thought I was close, I asked the driver about where I wanted to get off, and he told me that we were going in the opposite direction.  He seemed distracted by some young girls that were being disruptive, and he did not look like a very happy man in general, so I didn’t trust his judgment fully.  I thought it be best to get off the bus and try to figure out where I actually was. 

It was getting late and there were not many people around.  I was getting a little nervous, but managed to build up the courage to ask a man for directions as he walked by.  He was very eager to help, although, he seemed extremely disoriented himself.  He told me that the intersection I was looking for was close by, but kept changing his mind about which direction to go.  He was actually lost himself, as he was looking for where he had parked his van.  He was a public works employee, which made me wonder about how well he could do his job, when he couldn’t even remember where he parked.

I suddenly remembered that I tossed my GPS for my car into the side pocket of my backpack when I got to the airport in Buffalo, so I pulled it out and entered in Alanna’s address.  It turned out that I was only about 500m from her doorstep.  I quickly walked down the street and minutes later I was welcomed inside by Alanna and her pet dog, Roxie.  

It felt great to be safely indoors and to be able to relax.  Alanna and I spent the rest of the night catching up, since we hadn’t seen each other in over a year and a half.  Pretty soon it was late, so I decided to go to bed.

I slept in a bit on Friday, and then Alanna took me to a famous coffee shop, called Sweet Leaf, just a couple blocks from her place in Queens.  I’m not a big coffee person, but enjoyed the opportunity to see the shop.  After that, I headed into the city to check out the expo!

Once I got to Time Square, I took my time walking towards the expo, which was on the east side of Manhattan.  The expo was huge and the lines were fairly long to get through, just to get our kits.  They moved pretty fast though and I got all my stuff in no time.  Then I just walked around the expo for a little bit, taking it all in. 

There were lots of things going on and some big names around as well.  I was able to chat with Bart Yasso for a few minutes as well as Rick Ball.  I didn’t get a chance to meet Ryan Hall, but I did see him and got a picture (with Flat Stephanie).

After the expo, I went for a walk through Central Park, since Stephanie has always wanted to go there.  I took lots of pictures with Flat Stephanie.  Then it was only a short walk to Pure Yoga, where I was meeting Alanna for a class with one of her favourite teachers. 

Pure was by far the fanciest yoga studio I had ever been in.  It was a great opportunity to try a different style of yoga.  We did a little bit of chanting, some regular postures to warm up, and then some vinyasa followed by a nice relaxation.

After the yoga class, I headed over to a nightclub in Brooklyn for a concert of one of my favourite artists, Matt Costa.  The day before, Alanna was looking through all the musical events taking place during the marathon weekend and had mentioned it to me, otherwise I would not have heard about it.  It was a bit sketchy walking around the streets of Brooklyn alone at night.  I got there safely, enjoyed an awesome concert and it was only a few subway stops to get back to Alanna’s at the end of the night. 

They next morning, I went to meet my aunt and uncle at their hotel, just a short walk from Alanna’s, in Queens.  We had a nice breakfast at the hotel, and then headed out to the expo.  It was much busier than on the Friday, with most of the 42,000 runners still needing to pick up their race-kits.  I couldn’t believe that a lot of the race merchandise was already sold out. 

After the expo, we all headed down to Time Square, as well as taking a trip up to the top of the Empire State Building.  I had done this once before, a few years earlier, but it is quite amazing every time.  Everywhere I looked, I saw buildings that I recognized from having built the wind tunnel models at UMS for the last few years. 

We went for a leisurely walk through Central Park, to see the Finish line, so we had an idea of how things were set up for the race day.  We then found a little Italian restaurant to eat dinner at and then returned back to the hotel for the night. 

Nick and I planned to meet early at the hotel the next morning, in order to head down to the ferry terminal which would take us to Staten Island. 

We were right on schedule, since we were supposed to be at the ferry terminal for 6am.  My uncle even got to get to know some of the locals on the subway ride there, teaching them about dairy farming, running and much more.  There is never a dull moment when traveling with Uncle Nick. 

After taking the ferry, we had to hop on a bus that would take us to the runner’s village near the starting area.  Nick and I were the last two to hop on one of the many buses that were queued up at the ferry terminal. 

I would have to be a bit sneaky because I had a different colour bib and was supposed to be in a different starting area than my uncle, but we wanted to try and stay together.  I slide behind my uncle while entering the “Blue zone” without attracting much attention, so far, so good.  We still had a little while to wait before we had to gather into the corrals, so we tried our best to keep warm. 

Even with about an hour before the start, they announced the last call for any checked baggage.  We stripped down to our race attire, and checked our bags.  Then we headed for the corrals where I thought I’d need to be sneaky once again.  I was told by other runners, that on race morning, they are more concerned with just keeping the crowd moving, than nit-picking if one person is out of place, so I hoped that would be the case.  As we were entering the corral, the one volunteer checking bibs stopped me and tried to tell me I was in the wrong place.  I explained that I was supposed to be starting further ahead and that I dropped back to run with my uncle.  She allowed it and let me enter. 

We made a few more friends in the corrals, and before long, they were moving everyone forward towards the start.  They had a big official ceremony, including a short speech from the rescued Chilean minor that was taking part in the run.  After the playing of the national anthem, the gun went off and the crowd of thousands began shuffling forward to the sound of Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York!  

The view of Manhattan was amazing from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and the sight of all the runners, in front and behind, was unbelievable.  We would remain separate from the other two starting groups until about 8k in, where all three merge together.  The streets were still packed with runners, from sidewalk to sidewalk, as we entered Brooklyn. 

The wonderful thing about the NYC Marathon is that it showcases the entire city, and all of its people.  All the locals were out cheering for the runners, playing lots of music, and it seemed like everyone was having a blast.  I was taking lots of pictures with Flat Stephanie, which I couldn’t resist bringing along for the run.  

After a long stretch north in Brooklyn, we finally entered into Queens, where we ran past our cheering section of Alanna, Aunt Trudy and one of the wives of another runner that they had met at the hotel.  It was a nice burst of motivation as we ran past, approaching the Queensboro Bridge.

As we crossed the bridge, we had another great view of all the skyscrapers on the Westside of Manhattan.  After the bridge, we headed north up 1st Avenue, where there was an estimated one million people cheering on the runners.  We felt so big, being the centre of attention, and yet so small, in between all the high-rise buildings.  Soon we came to another bridge, which would take us into the Bronx.  I was very impressed with the spectators in this area, who were full of energy and encouragement.  It wasn’t long until we were crossing back into Manhattan and headed for Central Park. 

We entered the park on the west side, about half way down.  We enjoyed the small rolling hills of the park for a few kilometers, before heading back out onto the street, just to cross over to the east side.  We only had a couple of kilometers left to go and we let loose whatever energy we had left.  Nick and I had run the entire race together, and had a wonderful time.  We would finish, surrounded by thousands of cheering spectators, in just over 3 hours and 35 minutes. 

After the race, we had planned to meet Aunt Trudy at the lululemon just a couple blocks from the finish, where they were having a post-race party.  My uncle had to walk a fair bit further down to pick up his baggage, so we split up and would all meet back at the store. 

I found my aunt soon after I got to lulu, and it was about a half hour or so before Nick showed up.  They had lots of music, food and some give-a-ways at the store.  I was able to change into some dry clothes and even got a new jacket, after noticing my old run jacket had a big rip in it.  I also convinced my aunt to try on a few things, so that I could give my uncle some Christmas shopping ideas.  She found a pair of pants she loved, and I made sure to make note of it for my uncle. 

Since we only had the rest of the day to sightsee, we decided to take the subway down towards Wall Street, and check out a bit of that area before heading back to the hotel.  We stopped in at the memorial centre for the 9/11 victims and also tried to get a peak at the progress of the new PATH Terminal and surrounding construction. 

After it started to get dark, we headed back to Queens.  One of Nick’s new running friends from the hotel suggested we all go out for dinner, so after we got cleaned up, we met at a little diner near the hotel. 

We had a lovely dinner, all together, and then I headed back to Alanna’s.  She was able to book me a taxi for early the next morning that would take me to the airport.  That way, I didn’t have to worry about the subway detours and having to leave extra early.  The flight home was rather uneventful.  I couldn’t wait to get home and show Stephanie all the cool pictures and tell her about the race. 

I was really sad that she didn’t get to come with me, but to have the Flat Stephanie pictures is the next best thing.  I have promised her, that some day soon, we will make it back to NYC together and have a wonderful time. 

© Brian Groot 2020