As many of you know, I'm running the NYC Marathon 10 weeks from today. Pretty daunting task for somebody who looked like this three years ago (r.), and even like this (below left) just one year ago. I may be within striking distance of my goal weight, as you can see in the below right photo, but this marathon stuff is a little scary! Especially for somebody who is still a rube when it comes to the running world!
Anyhow, my running coach has given me a schedule to follow for literally every single day from May to November, from heavy mileage to speed work to rest days. Each week, I have to do a long run as per the marathon training. I just ran 17 miles last Sunday for the first time in my life. Heck, I never ran more than 13.1 miles (the distance in a half marathon) until a month ago! I never ran over 40 miles in my life until this week. So the numbers are getting bigger and more and more frightening. I will need to hit 23 (!) miles in early October before tapering before the marathon.
Anyhow, I was supposed to do 18 miles today. But I had signed up for the New York Flyers' 20-Mile Three Bridges Training Run, so I figured I'd get my money's worth ($20 for the race) and do the whole thing. (And yes, I discussed this with my coach beforehand!) The route covered part of the marathon course, including both the Pulaski Bridge and the 59th Street Bridge. And it would be a good test for me. While this wasn't a formal race, no streets would be closed, and I would be running on the sidewalk, it would still give me a taste of the marathon.
So I was supposed to be at Columbus Circle at Jackrabbit Sports at 6:20 a.m. today. The slowest starters, the 12-minute-per-mile ones, were starting at 6:30 a.m. Granted, there are two chances I will do that pace when I actually run the marathon -- slim and none! But I thought I might at least have a fighting chance of at least being able to take advantage of the fluid stations for the race.
So much for that. I was exhausted from my day before, which included running and visiting two farmers' markets (Did I mention that marathon training has wiped me out like nothing else I've ever done in my life?) so I didn't stir from the multiple alarms I set until 5:40 a.m. Which meant that I wasn't going to make it to the training run from Staten Island to the Upper West Side on time. After I got on the express bus this morning, I was literally the last person to check my bag and get my bib at Jackrabbit Sports.
One of the things that running has taught me is to roll with the punches, and to have a Plan B. Not long ago, I would have been totally devastated about missing my starting time, and it would have ruined my day. Now, I calculate the numbers and figure that even if I had woken up at 4ish and been on the 5 a.m. express bus instead of the 6 a.m. one, chances are that I would have missed the fluid stations anyway. At least I had a place to leave my bag at 7:30 a.m. and a map on my phone.
Right after I checked my bag and went to use the restroom before heading out to run, I realized that my iPod was not working; it was out of power. So this meant I would need to use my iPhone if I wanted to hear music. But my phone charger was in the bag I checked. When I went back to Jackrabbit to get it, I saw that the store was locked up. Yikes! This meant a music-free day for me. That's because since I had the course mapped out on my phone, I wanted to make sure the device still had power by the end of my run. Also, if I needed an ambulance at the end of the day, I wanted to be able to reach 911!
Music is extremely important me when running, especially because I'm too slow to run with anybody else (I can name on one hand how many times in my life I've ever run with anybody else and still have multiple fingers!) Heck, I am already planning my marathon playlist. So going sans tunes for this race was going to be tough. I hadn't gone without music for a long race since I ran the Cherry Tree 10-Miler in February (the race I ran in single-degree temperatures where it was so cold, the earbuds wouldn't stay in!)
I didn't have any choice today, though. Safety first. So I started my run without music, starting in Central Park by myself. I never saw a single person who had signed up for this at any point in the training run! I ran the whole thing myself. When I started, I was supposed to turn at 72nd Street to get to Riverside Park. But I got confused and ended up turning at 79th Street (the 72nd Street turnoff seemed way too soon!) so I ended up adding extra mileage before even really getting going!
But I chalked it up to it being one of those days. I was feeling okay -- I had run by the Hudson River a number of times before, so I knew the course -- until I got to Chelsea Piers. This was an hour in and I had stopped to use the restroom, get some more water, and eat one of those GU gels. The gel gave me an upset stomach, which is a frequent reaction I've been having to these things. (I sill need to figure out the best ways of nourishment before the marathon.)
So by the time I was heading towards lower Manhattan, I was feeling a little weak, with the heat on this sunny morning -- the sun seemed pretty unrelenting all day -- and hungry. Thank goodness for a Wafel and Dinges stand. I stopped and had a San Pellegrino blood orange soda and some of the free Waffles and DInges spekuloos cookies/crackers. That kept me going to the Brooklyn Bridge.
On the route there, I couldn't help but notice how many people are sleeping in the parks overnight these days. From the many people at Columbus Circle, to all of the people still sprawled out in Hudson River Park at 9 a.m., there is a big problem. (And yes, the city has gone downhill since Bill deBlasio took over! I never thought I'd say this, but I miss Mike Bloomberg!) Some of the people in the parks looked young and strung out. Others were older people who were toting their lives' possessions with them. The whole thing was very sobering.
As for the Brooklyn Bridge, I was born and raised in New Jersey, and I've lived in NYC for 16 years now. And I used to drive over that bridge on the way to the office when I worked at the New York Daily News. But until today, I never ran across the bridge. And, truth be told, I did not do a whole lot of running when crossing today. There were sooooo many tourists on the Brooklyn Bridge, it was hard to move!
A few observations: Selfie sticks are evil and tourists need to learn to TAKE PHOTOS QUICKLY! I will be polite, within reason, but when people spend five minutes blocking foot traffic while they try to take the perfect shot, I want to throw their smartphones in the East River. This is New York. Move quickly, people!
I also noticed that the first half of the bridge, which was a big uphill climb, was much more crowded than the second half. Which made me wonder -- do people only walk halfway across the bridge, and then turn around before reaching Brooklyn? Sheesh.
After I finally got across the passageway, I ran through some interesting Brooklyn neighborhoods, from DUMBO and VInegar Hill to Williamsburg and Greenpoint. I passed by everything from the Brooklyn Navy Yard to public housing to some really high-end apartment buildings under construction. Some of the route I knew fairly well, like Williamsburg; other parts were literally the first time in my life that I had been in the area! That added to the sense of adventure on my journey. Would I be able to run 20 miles in neighborhoods I didn't know and get to the end without getting lost? That was the question.
I stopped a few times to get a snack or something to drink. This meant my day was even longer, but I don't think I'll have to worry about waiting in line at the bodega at the marathon; water and gels will be provided. I also stopped to use the restroom at the Franklin Guesthouse boutique hotel in Greenpoint. Heck, it looks like an outhouse on their logo! I've learned in my fitness journey that when I need to use a restroom at a fancy place like that (or, for example, like Fushimi, a Japanese restaurant in Bay Ridge) the trick is to stride purposefully and act like I belong there!
Also, over the last few months, I have tried to train my mind to stop the ANTS -- automatic negative thoughts -- that have infested my brain at times when running. Instead, I thought about what I would write in this blog entry, and how excited I was going to be when this journey was complete.
I took a few walk breaks, because the heat was getting to me. Finally, about 14 miles in, I made it to the Pulaski Bridge, which would get me into Queens. By the way, I'm afraid of heights, which made all of this bridge running a little frightening. But I got through it by focusing on how good I would feel mentally when this was over!
I didn't spend much time in Queens before I was going to have to cross the 59th Street Bridge, aka the Queensboro Bridge, aka the Ed Koch Bridge. And that looked really frightening from the ground! So no, I was not "feeling groovy," to quote the Simon and Garfunkel song, about crossing it. (An aside on the name: why a bridge to an outer borough is named for the most Manhattan-centric mayor we've ever had is beyond me. But I digress!)
Around this time, my Garmin watch started flashing a low-battery message. And I'm thinking to myself, "If I'm going to finish 20 miles, this better be tracking it so I have proof!"
I've heard that the 59th Street Bridge is eerily quiet during the marathon, without the crowds. Well, it was really noisy today, with all of the cars! And it seemed to take forever to run across. But it really wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. But I saw the Roosevelt Island tram pass by, and it looked way too scary to take. Maybe one day I won't feel that way.
By the time I crossed this bridge, I had about 16 miles in. So I had to get in another four miles before finishing. I decided to run up 1st Avenue, something I'll be doing during the marathon (this area is known for being a wall of sound during the race, but I just heard the usual city cacophony) and then made it to Central Park to finish up. Before I hit the park, I stopped at a 7-11 for an energy drink and then focused on getting the last few miles done.
Something I noticed: the park has so many pedicabs now. What's up with that? They cost between $3 and $4 a MINUTE! Chances are, you're going to want to see at least 1/2 hour's worth of the park. Maybe a full hour. Do people have that much money to burn these days? I don't get it.
At this point, I technically could have run 18 miles, because that's all I was initially scheduled for, and called it a day, but I really wanted to get the full 20 miles in. So I was killing time running back and forth in Central Park; I didn't want to run too far north, though, and have to run more than 20. And my watch was blinking the low battery message over and over, and I wasn't sure what was going to run out of power first: me or my Garmin!
FInally, I muddled through these last few miles, and finished my 20 miles right in front of Jackrabbit Sports and picked up my bag (needless to say, I was the last person to come back for their stuff!) Yes, I actually plodded my slow body through 20 miles! This is the first time in my life I've ever run double digits starting in 2!
Yes, I had to walk some of it. And I'm still painfully slow. (It's no wonder I joke that Slowpoke from Pokemon Go is my spirit animal. Although I think Slowpoke could probably outrun me!)
But even though I look like death warmed over in my post-race photo on the right, I'm happy, too. I'm happy I set out what I wanted to do. And I'm happy to see that each week, slowly but surely, I'm getting closer to my marathon goal.
I still need to work on my speed and endurance over the next ten weeks. But Squawker Jon, my blogging partner, said today that while he has had confidence that I would be able to finish the marathon, today was the first day he could really visualize me doing so.
I still have a lot to do to get ready over the next 10 weeks. But I want to appreciate the journey on the way to my first marathon. Today was a huge step in doing so.