Marathon Recap Article 5 – End Game

This article is the fifth of six detailing my personal experiences from Week One of training to finishing the 26.2 miles of the 2013 ING NYC Marathon. For the previous posting, please click here.

Manhattan V2.0 and the Grand Finale
The second trip into Manhattan starts art Mile 21 with some great little neighborhoods in Harlem and a pleasant little trip around Marcus Garvey Park onto 5th Avenue south. The crowds are back and fired up…I’m sure it would’ve been a delightful jaunt if my brain wasn’t so focused on pure survival. This is where they say the race really starts and I was hanging on for dear life.

My main focus moving towards Mile 22 was to see Team Luhmann waiting for me again at 96th St…this meant everything to me mentally as I started counting down blocks at 120th St. I can’t say I was in too much pain. The great work my PT team at Mile Square Physical Therapy had completely negated my plantar fasciitis. I was just tired. Really, really tired. I started to walk through the water stations to stretch out a bit and make sure I got my fluids. I was hanging in there okay but right at 106th St, things got a bit hairy.

To this point in my running career I had never experienced cramping. It was something I figured I was just immune to and in all my training up to the 20 milers, I had only drank water even through hotter weather…this was my cardinal sin. My cramping battle is the one race memory that is still as vivid in my mind as if it happened a couple minutes ago. It started with my left hamstring as a sharp clenching feeling. I jerked a bit in surprise; then the other hamstring went and I desperately hobbled over to the sidewalk, cutting a few unfortunate runners off along the way. As I wobbled to the side, I remember hearing a girl exclaim to her friend, “Oh, look! He’s cramping”…I considered asking if either of them were doctors but since they looked to be in their 20s and since I doubt a doctor could’ve helped in the first place, I didn’t say anything but tried to bend over to stretch and relieve the pain. As soon as I did my abs cramped up and then I thought, uh oh. I knew at this point there wasn’t anything I could do. I missed the banana in the Bronx; I didn’t drink enough Gatorade along the way; I instantly learned my lesson…but that was all inconsequential 23 miles in and just over three to go…

So I chugged all the water in my hydration belt (btw if you need one, my Fitletic belt is awesome). I started walking. Then I started a slow jog down to my last visit with my wife et al for one more mental boost. They were awesome jumping around me and it gave me some juice for the last push. My advice to anyone planning on running a marathon in the future is to bring your family and friends. The raucous crowds are awesome (especially when you write your name on your shirt for personalized cheers) but they are all no substitute for the elation you feel in sharing your most challenging moments with the people you love.  I left those very people reenergized but still hobbling as I passed through the Engineer’s Gate at 90th St and into Central Park.

Central Park is an amazing place to run. The six mile Park Drive is a beautiful shady trail with rolling hills and fantastic scenery. On Marathon Sunday those little hills were excruciating. After a quick time check I realized there was no way I was going to break my four hour goal and I spent my mile and a half south bound merely putting one foot in front of the other trying to push just enough not to cramp up again. I failed. Just before Mile 25, all the muscles in my legs went haywire again. I felt pretty bad because I yelled my favorite four letter word in frustration as I bailed again to the sidewalk. Hopefully the kiddies didn’t hear it over the cheers…this time I was able to get back moving pretty quickly and pushed my way out of the Park and onto 59th St without stopping again.

The right onto 59th St is another one of those special moments in the ING NYC Marathon. The crowds are once again lined 3-4 deep and the road is a little more packed in that the Avenues. Everyone knows this is the final stretch and it’s the time to give it everything left in the tank to make a beeline for the finish. For me, I was really just trying to keep it going. My legs muscles were tweaking (not twerking, mind you) all over the place and I said a prayer that the cramps hold off just long enough for me to get through the final half mile. Apparently someone was listening because I made it.

The final turn back into the Park is incredible. There is a big stage with bands rocking out just as you reenter and can immediately see the 26 Mile markers down the hill. After crossing 26, the mile markers become a countdown in meters…and of course the last 400 are all up hill. Until this time, I don’t think I’d ever realized just how long a football field is…it’s both a motivator and a de-motivator seeing the numbers tick down but also understanding just how much it takes to get each 100 meters. With 100 left, you can finally see the finish and the grandstands one both sides filled with marathon enthusiasts. At this point, I put the hammer down and put everything I had into finishing strong and grabbing that big heavy Finisher’s Medal.

The feelings that come after the finish are hard to describe. I was upset that I didn’t make my goal but elated that I was able to overcome my personal battle to finish. I was irritated at the people stopping right after the finish line for pictures when all I wanted was to stretch out my legs and keep walking. I also felt a little bit like crying. I don’t know why; I just got that lump in my throat out of nowhere. I suppose it’s all part of the physiological toll 26.2 miles takes on both your mind and body. 

Next Article: Post Marathon

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