Guest Post by Dave from California
I originally applied to run in the 2013 NYC Marathon never really intending to run in 2013. I was running the 2013 Hartford Marathon in October 2013 and figured there was no way I could run two marathons in the span of a few weeks. My plan all along was to run in 2014. I figured I could essentially apply in 2013 and defer to 2014 if I actually got in. That gave me two shots at the lottery for 2014. As luck would have it I hit the lottery for the 2013 marathon but I stuck to my game plan and deferred to 2014. The downside of doing this is that you have to pay the registration fee twice, which as I recall was in the neighborhood of $260. In the end I figured it was worth it because New York was a race I had wanted to do for a long time. When I was a kid my father was a runner – mostly 10K’s – but every year we would park ourselves in front of the TV and watch the New York City Marathon together. At the time I didn’t consider myself a runner but the experience of watching it with my dad left a lasting memory for me.
I flew out from the Bay Area with my 4 year old son early in the week and stayed with my parents in Connecticut. On Friday we drove down to New York and went straight to our hotel which was on 46th between 6th and 7th. If you’re familiar with the area you know that it’s only steps from Times Square. The room wasn’t ready so we decided to walk over to the expo shuttle in Times Square. The shuttle was packed with runners, and after 20 minutes of fighting cross town traffic we finally made it to the Javits Center on the west side of Manhattan. The expo was packed. The line to get in was wrapped around the building. Mind you, the Javits Center is HUGE. It has to be one of the biggest convention centers in the world. We waited about 45 minutes in line to get inside, but once we were actually inside things moved pretty quickly. Bib pickup was a breeze. They gave me my bib, official runner handbook, early exit bracelet and starting village gear bag. I opted for the no baggage option which really made my life a lot easier. Basically, they give you huge incentives to NOT check a bag – you get to exit Central Park (finish line) something like 10 blocks earlier, plus they give you this awesome fleece lined poncho (more on that later). The early exit was huge because it saved you, in total, about 20 additional blocks of walking on legs that just completed 26.2 miles.
But I digress.
After getting my bib we walked over to shirt pickup. Again, this was a breeze. You simply got in line for whatever gender and size you wanted and they handed it to you. As I recall we didn’t need to specify a shirt size when registering so there was no need to have a shirt exchange area. You simply asked for the one you wanted.
From there you were guided over to the ASICS booth. I guess “booth” is a bit of an understatement because as one of the main sponsors they occupied a huge percentage of the total expo space. If I had to guess I’d say 50%. All of the official merchandise was ASICS branded, and they had hundreds of racks of every type of running gear you can imagine. Personally I picked up some gloves, arm warmers, an awesome rain/running jacket, a couple of tech shirts and a few things for my wife. They also had the NYC Marathon Edition ASICS shoes. They were cool but I’m not really an ASICS shoe guy so I didn’t get them. I also noticed that they were available at Running Warehouse so I couldn’t see a reason to haul them back to California on an airplane. The line to pay was enormous and it took a good 30 minutes to work our way to the registers.
After leaving the ASICS area we walked out into the main part of the expo which had all of the usual suspects in terms of vendors. I spoke with the folks at the HOKA booth. Incidentally, I ran both the San Francisco Marathon and NYC in my beloved Bondi 2’s, which sadly will need to be retired. My wife asked if there was a special ceremony we needed to conduct – almost like a ceremony for a fallen warrior. In the end I decided to put them in the shoe recycling bin at Sports Basement.
After that I hit the Saucony booth and picked up a pair of their NYC Marathon Edition Kinvaras. I bought them specifically to be my “around town” shoes and not something to run in. I’m a HOKA guy after all! I also stopped at New Balance and got a cool NYC Marathon tee they were selling.
At this point my son was getting a bit antsy – he’s only 4 so I completely understand where he was coming from. As we made our way to the exits we discovered that there was an entire second floor to the expo that we didn’t even know about. Since my son was on the edge of a meltdown we decided to leave and skip the second floor completely. I have no idea what was up there or how big it was. So, in total we saw MAYBE 30% of the expo and we were there for several hours. After that we headed back to the shuttle which took us back to Times Square. It was a short walk back to our hotel where we waited for my wife to arrive.
Saturday was rainy and cold. We slept in then walked down to Ess-a Bagels for breakfast. They have the classic New York bagel. Crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. Heaven. The line to get in was about 30 minutes but was well worth the wait. After finishing up there we walked over to Rockefeller Center and watched people skating. We checked out NBC studios (like, where they do the Today Show) but eventually decided we were cold and wet so we walked back to the hotel. We warmed up for a few hours then walked over to Carmine’s Restaurant to carbo load. The food was delicious and I managed to have my traditional pre-race meal of angel hair pasta with marinara and two sausages. It’s a bit unconventional but it works for me. After that it was back to the hotel and in bed by 10:00.
The alarm went off at 6:15 Sunday morning. It took me about 30 minutes to put myself together and was out the door at 6:45. I needed to be on the 7:45 Staten Island Ferry, so I caught the downtown 1 train and was at South Ferry station by 7:15. The subway was packed. Packed, like you couldn’t fit a single additional person on the trains. And these are huge trains too. They make BART trains look tiny. The subway I was on was at least 2x the size of any BART train I’ve ever been on. From there it was a quick walk over to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. At this point it became clear that it was not only cold but extremely windy. The forecast was for 20-30 mph winds with gusts up to 40 mph, and while I can say for sure what the wind speed was, I can confirm that it was blowing like crazy and was very strong. If you told me the constant wind speed was 30-35 mph I would have believed you.
The ferry ride over to Staten Island was beautiful. The ferry is huge and there must have been several thousand runners on it. The ferry goes right by the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island making for some nice photo opportunities. You also get a great view of Lower Manhattan and the new Freedom Tower. Viewing Lower Manhattan from a distance is an awesome sight. The entire ferry ride was about 20-30 minutes and once we got to Staten Island we made our way into the ferry terminal. From there we walked through the terminal and out to the busses that were to take us to the start village at Fort Wadsworth. It took a good 30 minutes to get on the shuttle and it was crazy windy while we were standing there waiting. I’ll go so far as to say I was freezing. This was when I started to become concerned that I may have been underdressed for the race. For my race day kit I had decided on a short sleeve tech shirt with the California state flag on it. One great tradition at New York is that most international runners wear clothing with the name of their country and/or flag on it. Since roughly 40% of the entrants are international it makes for a wonderful tapestry of national colors and national pride. I decided to join in on the fun with the California shirt. The rest of my kit consisted of ASICS arm sleeves, Adidas shorts, CEP compression sleeves, a Brooks visor and my trusty HOKAs.
Once we finally made it onto the bus it was a 15-20 minute ride through the streets of Staten Island to the start village at Fort Wadsworth.
To get into the start village we had to go through metal detectors, past bomb sniffing dogs, ID checks, pat-downs, and wand-downs. There were police everywhere and a lot of them were carrying machine guns. I can’t say for sure but I think I saw snipers on top of some of the buildings. Kind of scary but it really did make you feel safe. You just knew that if any terrorists were going to try anything unsavory they were going to get messed up and taken down…and fast. These guys weren’t messing around.
After security it was a 10 minute walk up to my designated start village. An additional downside of the high wind was that the race organizers (correctly) made the decision to reduce the signage and tents in the start village. This made things a bit chaotic because the start village is a large area with very specific places runners can and cannot enter based on their starting chute color, wave and corral. There are three separate and distinct areas in the start village: blue, green and orange.
Just to wrap your head around the size of the race consider the staring logistics: You have the three colored start villages (blue, orange, green). Blue started on the northbound side of the upper deck, orange started on the southbound side of the upper deck and green started on the lower deck. I was blue which meant I was starting on the upper deck on the same side as the elites. Green went to the other side of the bridge and orange went to the lower deck. Within each color there were 4 waves and within each wave there were 6-7 corrals. I was assigned to the blue village, wave 4, corral A. At the designated time they called up runners in each wave into a separate staging area which would then lead you onto the bridge. When I arrived they were calling wave 2 and since I was in wave 4 I had about an hour to kill. I sat down behind a police car and did my best to stay out of the wind. Runners were huddled about doing their best to stay warm, many sitting behind a large object . Porta-potties were plentiful and I never had to wait more than 5 minutes to use one. Race organizers claimed to have over 1,200 porta-potties at the start village, which I believe, and it significantly decreased the number of people relieving themselves in non-designated areas.
When each wave started they set off a Howitzer instead of a gun or air horn. We were still quite far from the bridge and we could hear the cannon fire as each wave was set off.
Once they were ready for wave 4 we walked over and were then guided into our corrals. We had to show our bibs to get into our assigned corral and they didn’t hesitate to kick someone out who didn’t belong there. After a 10-15 minute wait they led us down the road and over to the bridge. En route they had all the donation bins for our throw-aways which by then were overflowing. We arrived at the bridge and walked up to the start line. They made a few announcements then someone sang America the Beautiful.
Then the Howitzer went off. Now, I’m not a military guy and don’t know anything about Howitzers but I feel confident when I say I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of one of those things. The force coming out of it was massive and you could feel the entire bridge shake.
You immediately head uphill onto the Verrazano Bridge. Incidentally, the Verrazano is the biggest hill on the course and it’s the highest point. The wind was howling on the bridge. My visor almost blew off a few times so I just took it off and carried it. Then I noticed that my bib was making a lot of noise and saw that only three corners of the bib were still attached to my shirt. The wind had completely ripped off the bottom right hole where you pin it. From that point on whenever the wind gusted really hard I made sure to press my bib against my body for fear that the whole thing might rip off. I’m sure it wouldn’t take them long to pull you off the course if they saw you without a bib.
I can’t fully articulate just how windy it was. It was to the point where you had to push your head down and pull your arms in close to your body, forcing you to run in a very awkward position. After a few miles my face was stinging and my back hurt from running hunched over. Imaging trying to run uphill – that’s what it felt like. People tried to run in packs and let the person in front of them break the wind but frankly it didn’t really matter. The wind seemed to be coming from everywhere. First it was straight in your face but a minute later it would be coming from the side. At times it even seemed like it was swirling everywhere around us.
Coming off the bridge we entered Brooklyn where is actually where you spend most of the race. The crowds were unreal. They lined both sides of the street for the entire race (except for the bridges where spectators aren’t allowed). The crowds were deafening coming into Brooklyn. I’ve never heard so much support coming from spectators. It was surreal. You wind your way through Brooklyn and into Queens, again people lining both sides of the street and bands playing every 1/2 mile or so.
There are a lot of timing mats out on the course. They were at every mile beginning with mile 3, every 5K, at 13.1 and at the finish. By my count that’s a total of 35 timing mats.
Any who, as we entered Queens there was a guy shouting “welcome to Queens!!” and they most definitely made us feel welcome. It’s also where I saw the best sign on the course: Run like the person behind you has ebola (too soon?). It was pretty funny and I actually did laugh out loud.
Aid stations were plentiful and well stocked. There was absolutely no chance they were going to run out of water or Gatorade (ahem, San Francisco…). I’m not certain but I’m pretty sure the aid stations were every mile beginning at mile 3 or 4. The volunteers were great and it was clear that they had been trained because they really knew what they were doing and were super efficient about it. Speaking of volunteers, there were 10,000 and they were all fantastic. They absolutely bent over backwards to help out any runner who needed anything. They went beyond the call of duty. I really can’t say enough about how good they were.
As you leave Queens you head up the Queensboro Bridge on your way to Manhattan. The Queensboro is massive; probably close to a mile long. The neat thing is that it’s a double decked cantilever bridge and it gives the impression of running through a tunnel. Because spectators aren’t allowed there all you hear is the thundering of feet hitting the pavement and people breathing. Other than that it’s eerily quiet. I’m also convinced that the bridge was uphill the whole way because the incline was never ending. On the plus side there was no wind in there.
We came off the bridge at mile 16 and dropped onto 1st Ave in Manhattan. The crowd was deafening as we came in. The contrast from quiet to roaring crowd is something I’ll never forget. The crowds were 3 and 4 people deep along 1st from about 59th st (where you come off the bridge….remember the old Simon and Garfunkel tune? Yep, that bridge) all the way up to 90th St or so. My family and I had pre-arranged to meet at 86th street which is on the upper eastside. I found them and chatted for a minute or so, snapped a picture and then was on my way again. It was really good to see family because I really needed the support then. I was absolutely shot by mile 17, mostly from having to endure strong headwinds most of the time. Everything hurt and I blame the wind. The wind was relentless (have I mentioned that??). We worked our way up over the Willis St. Bridge and into The Bronx for a mile or so then came back down into Manhattan via 5th Ave. By this point many people were walking, although I’m pleased to say I ran the entire thing (except walking through aid stations). Down 5th Avenue for quite a while then you turn into Central Park right at the Guggenheim (incredible museum, by the way). Mile 23-24 is a long, steady incline and is often said to be the toughest hill on the course. It was pretty tough, although having run the SF Marathon I’d say it wasn’t a huge deal. The wind was still blowing hard on 5th Ave and it almost knocked me over a few times. I had a chance to watch the ESPN 2 coverage of the race last night and the commentators kept talking about the tailwind from miles 20-26. Let me assure you, there was no tailwind.
Once you’re in the park it’s a small series of up-and-downs. Nothing major, but I will say that Central Park is way hillier than you would think. Just after mile 25 you make a big right hand turn onto Central Park South which takes you all the way to Columbus Circle. From Columbus Circle you take another hard right and go back into Central Park. That’s also where you hit the mile 26 marker. The last 385 yards to the finish line is something every runner should experience. You feel like a rockstar. Bleachers on both sides of the road, flags blowing in the wind, people screaming encouragement and crossing the finish line on the biggest stage in the marathon world. Magic.
There are obviously other major marathons out there: Chicago, Boston, London, Berlin, etc. but I can’t imagine anything eclipses New York. It’s bigger, louder and the most magical celebration of life I have ever witnessed. Everything, I mean EVERYTHING is bigger and more intense in New York. No place in the world is quite like it. I say that not only as a tourist but as someone who lived in the tri-state area for several years. New Yorkers think New York is the center of the universe, and they’re correct. Boston is the more prestigious race, at least among runners, but New York is bigger and grander. It’s a celebration of everything that’s right with the world. There’s a great book by Liz Robbins called A Race Like No Other that tells the story of the 2007 NYC Marathon from all angles; from the elite runners to the back-of-the-packers. It’s a great read and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants some further reading on the NYC Marathon.
After you cross the finish line you are handed your medal and then a recovery bag which contained a Gatorade recovery drink, a bottle of actual Gatorade, a bottle of water, a Powerbar protein bar, a New York apple and probably a few more things that I’m forgetting. After that you get your space blanket.
The finish line is at 67th Street but you continue walking further up into the park. Barricades were everywhere so you had no choice but to continue north. If you selected the no-bag option you were able to exit the park at 77th Street. If you checked a bag you potentially had to go as far as 85th Street. The problem is that once you exit onto Central Park West you have to head back south to 66th Street. The other problem with checking a bag is that you don’t get the really awesome poncho. They were reserved exclusively for no-bag runners. I expected the poncho to be a cheap throw away thing, but it’s actually really nice. The outer seems to be water resistant – kind of like wind-breaker material – and fleece lined. It has a hood and closes securely with velcro. Let me tell you, I was freezing at this point and the poncho probably saved many people from becoming hypothermic. The sign on the top of the BofA building said 47 degrees and of course it was still windy. The poncho provided instant warmth and I felt good enough to continue walking.
I met up with my family at 62nd Street and we walked down to Columbus Circle (60th Street) and took the subway back to 42nd Street/Times Square and checked out of our hotel.
This was my slowest marathon by about 5 minutes and I have no doubt the wind added a significant amount to my time. You also have to remember that you’re running shoulder-to-shoulder with people for the entire 26.2 miles. It was really hard to weave around people and with the wind it just seemed easier to draft off the person in front of you. I have no doubt that with better weather and fewer people I could have PR’d, but frankly I didn’t care about that. My goal was to really experience the race and enjoy every moment of it and I most certainly did that. This was easily the best race experience of my life and might be in the top 10 experiences of my entire life. It was that good.
So, would I do it again? Absolutely. I might try the lottery again in 5 years or so, but without a doubt I’d love to do it again. After all, how often do you get to cross off a bucket list item twice?
The flight back to Oakland was fine. I saw several other runners wearing their medals during our layover at Midway/Chicago and there were definitely high-fives exchanged. The first thing everyone said to me: man, was that wind crazy or what? Yes, yes it was.
**This was a guest post by Dave from California. We thank him for sharing his experience.