“Start spreading the news, I’m leaving today.
I want to be a part of it, New York, New York.
These vagabond shoes, are longing to stray
Right through the very heart of it, New York, New York.”
Precisely these lyrics of Frank Sinatra´s memorable “New York, New York” were the soundtrack at the Verrazano Bridge when the runners in Wave 2 started this year´s New York City Marathon. And, although with running shoes instead of “vagabond” shoes, my brother Javier, friends Lorenzo and Carlos Prieto (also brothers themselves), and myself were “a part of it”.
This has been my 8th marathon race (1) and the 6th together with Javier. Early this year I had suggested him to try this time before life circumstances make it more difficult for both to train and prepare together such race and a trip. As he explained in this post, he was lucky to get an admission in the draw, while I was “lucky” to find a good international travel partner to secure my place (2). Let me now summarize some personal views and anecdotes of this unique running event:
Whatever your village is, go to the blue…
If you are an experienced marathon runner, it is likely that you will have more waiting time at the Start Village at Verrazano Bridge, in Staten Island, than you will be running. Due to the complex logistics to get the personal bags from the start to the finish line, and to organize a start for up to 50.000 runners, the race organization had us waiting as early as 6:00 AM in that area around the start line. Our starting time was 10:05 AM. Javier and I had left Manhattan at 5:30 AM from my hotel with the shuttle bus arranged by my travel partner.
The Village itself was a minicity with three separated areas (blue, orange and green) to organize the many runners. In each of the colored areas they provided us with beverages, food, toilets and space to wait.
Being there at 6:00 AM means we experienced a chilly NYC morning for hours. We checked out Javi´s orange village and mine, the blue one, which had somewhat more coverage from the wind thanks to nearby buildings, so we settled there and waited for some hours:
With more time than needed (in our view the organization did a great mistake calling runners check their bags, and to enter their corrals about one hour before the previous “wave” had actually left it, having us waiting without needed cover, unthinkable at this level) Javi left for his orange village and we headed for our corrals. As in many races special containers are provided in the corrals for the runners to donate the last covering layers for charities. It was the case, but the “needed ones” were in this situation the runners of the Wave 2, who took part of the clothes donated by the runners from Wave 1 to warm themselves for the next half hour of waiting time. Finally, at 10:05 we started.
The crowds of runners of the three colored villages headed to the beginning of the bridge and the voice of Sinatra told us what we were about to experience. In order to follow the text, find below the race course:
First impressive part was crossing the Verrazano Brigde in such a windy day. Quite a challenge for runners without warm clothes. I had at that moment three layers, my usual technical T-shirt from Athens Marathon, the official long-sleeves NYRR (New York Road Runners) Marathon technical shirt and a wind-stopper from my travel partner (I thank them for that!). After km 4, and without the strong winds at the top of the Verrazano “hill”, I felt warmer and I threw the windstopper away. As I had agreed with Javier, we would try to follow the pacer for 3h45 in order to maximize our chances to meet again. I saw this group at km 5 and followed it most part of the race. Javi somehow saw them at the beginning but lost the group for the rest of the race.
Already in Brooklyn, I immediately noticed the incredible atmosphere of this event, with thousands of people in the streets cheering us: “looking nice!””you´re awsome!””keep strong!”. Music was more than present. According to the organization, up to 130 bands perform along the course, that is some 3 bands per kilometer! I indeed listened the mytical Rocky´s Gonna Fly Now by the Bishop Loughlin High School band. And then rock bands, alternative groups, percussion, gospel, and many others… anything you may think of. Just great. (well… King Africa´s “Bomba” was also part of this street´s soundtrack…)
With a pace of around 5:15/km the group around our two pacers run smoothly through Brooklyn heading to Queens. As a spaniard, it was an experience to see many jewish people in their ultraorthodox clothing (some jewish women fearfully trying to cross the streets as we run along). Another impressive experience along the race was the sight of disabled people running guided by voluntaries of NYC chapter of Achilles International, an NGO helping this group. It was very moving to see them and I tried to cheer them every time I had energy to do so. They are really “awsome”.
Among music and cheering people we were discovering the neighbourhoods of these two diverse boroughs, until we reached the Queensboro Bridge. Already in Queens we had already got an impressive view on Manhattan, and the bridge, with its “solid climb” to the other side, was the last test before reaching Manhattan.
This was km 25 and I still could keep pace with the 3h45 group, although I started to feel that I was not so strong, and had to keep fighting with low temperatures, putting on and off the NYRR-shirt when the wind would blow chilly.
Already in Manhattan, the 1st Avenue full of people still offered me great moments, with crowds cheering at us. For me this was one of the personal highlights of the race, and definitely helped me to stay with the group until we reached the Bronx. Unfortunately, we run only very few streets in this borough, not having the chance to see it as we did with Queens and Brooklyn. And maybe it was the “hard spirit” of this area that hit me, so that I started to lose pace with the pacer group.
Back from the Bronx and already heading south along the 5th Avenue, I would still encounter the final test of the climb before entering Central Park (at around 90th street, with the Guggenheim Museum at sight). This would be hard for me, and my pace went really slow there. See below my speed profile from my Garmin track file and you will notice this slowing of the pace:
The last 2 kilometers were dramatic for me. The combination of low temperatures and wind kind of took a toll on me and I started to feel bad in my intestine. I don´t want to be explicit here, but I had to stop for some minutes before reaching the finish line, in an area prepared for that. Then, the final mile and a half I run as fast as I could, enjoying the crowds and the magnificient scenery of south Central Park and Columbus Circle to cross the finish line at an “unofficial” time of 3:59:30. Not that I had finished á la Rod Dixon, but I had another marathon “under” four hours behind me. All things considered, especially the last kilometers, a good result. (Find here my race tracking in GarminConnect.)
The post race moments are also an important part of the ritual. To get the medal, walk slowly and proud with the blanket, get your bag back to change your clothes and reunite with your friends. I did so, finally meeting Javier. We could not enjoy Central Park as much as we would have loved to due to the low temperatures as we were cooling down ourselves. We headed to our hotels with the subway and rejoiced with the greetings from many newyorkers, to the extent that some of them even stood up to allow us to seat. That was awsome!
“As per tradition” we rested for a while and met together to have a celebration dinner with Lorenzo, Carlos and their wives Marichu and Myriam. Javier had booked a table for us all in a burger restaurant called 5 Boro Burger. How convenient! We could order burguers with the names of our prefered boroughs as experienced in the race. I had the Brooklyn Burguer 🙂
We exchanged experiences from the race (Carlos and Lorenzo managed to finish together at 3:40, impressive debut for Carlos, being Lorenzo a Boston finisher and ultradistance runner), from our trips and personal lives to round up an enjoyable evening. See below the moment of the dinner:
Back at my hotel, in the lift I met to americans. We talked shortly about my experience, they greeted me and I thanked back for the support of the public. The doors opened and as they were getting out of the lift one turned back and said: “Hey, no… thank YOU”. Oh boy, aren´t they just awsome? They know how to play this game.
To finish with this post I will leave it again to Frank, who else, right?
“… If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.
It’s up to you, New York, New York! “
(2) For those of you interested in securing a place for marathon races such as NYC, London and the like, you will find interesting solutions through the international travel partners. Check out the race´s websites for orientation. In my case, I selected Fernado Pineda, and I can only recommend them for NYC. Not having tried with any other, I am happy with the organization they set up, the pre-race dossiers they prepared and the flexibility to adapt dates and flights to my trip with Javier, Luca and Andrea.