To borrow a line from Buddy in the movie Elf: “I’m in love, I’m in love and I don’t care who knows it!” Today I am adoring not only my awesome husband but I’m also quite smitten with New York City, so the Elf quote seems perfect. Speaking of perfect, yesterday, Tom and I ran the New York Marathon and chalked up a weekend to remember.
I admit that it started off just a little rocky when we arrived at the Race Expo after trundling our bags down 33rd Street from the train station. The race registration was well run but I was disappointed to find out that they had run out of shirts in the lower sizes.
Some of you out there are saying, “So what, it’s just a shirt.” Well, those some of you are not me. Call me petty, call me shallow but I love race shirts - those fabulous, practical badges of honor. Unlike the medal, which sits in my room, never worn after the race, the race shirts allow me to continue to proclaim my accomplishment, well, every time I run. Tom went to the Expo, took care of his race packet and returned with a shirt he had bought for me. On the upside, that was – hands down – the worst of my weekend. And looking back, I don’t even care about that stinkin’ shirt but more on that later.
We checked into the Essex House, a lovely art deco style hotel on Central Park South. For those of you who, like me, don’t know New York, Central Park South is exactly what it sounds like – it’s the street that borders the southern edge of central park. It’s also 59th Street. Gorgeous place. We had dinner at a little Italian place I had researched ahead of time. Man-oh-man, if you go to New York and you’re staying near Central Park, go to this restaurant. If you’ve ever been to the Tuscan region of Italy and are desperate their unique and wonderful cuisine, go to this restaurant. If you want food that will melt in your mouth, go to…well, you get the picture. It’s called Il Gattopardo.
Then it was to bed early. Unfortunately, despite the feather soft bed and plush covers, I couldn’t sleep. I watched the digital readout on my clock go from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. and back to 1 a.m. And I was grateful for the extra hour because when I woke in the pitch black of early morning, I knew I’d slept at least three hours rather than two.
Tom and I had coffee to go and were in a cab, heading to Whitehall terminal at 5:20 a.m. The trip on the ferry was incredible. Being surrounded by runners from all over the world, all shapes and sizes, all with the same goal is a heady experience. Some runners, the experienced ones, wore parkas and carried sleeping bags. An entire contingent of Italian runners wore ‘shedders’ – white, baggy overgarments designed to be discarded - and somehow made them look fashionable.
Many of us camped out in the ferry terminal rather than spending extra time in the cold at Fort Wadsworth, the repository for all runners. The solemn quiet of the terminal was in direct opposition to Fort Wadsworth, which was a cacophony of sound and action. Runners sat on curbs sipping complimentary Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, stretched cold muscles, stripped off layers and packed them onto UPS trucks, chattered with friends or made new ones. Tom and I had a ball, so much so that we almost missed the call for our corral.
Consequently, our first run of the day was to hightail it from the UPS bag drop to the corral, which was aptly named as we were herded like cattle into holding areas fenced off with ten-foot high metal fencing amidst multi-lingual directions spoken over a loudspeaker. The announcements came in English, French, Spanish, German, Japanese and probably many other languages that I could not identify. Due to our late arrival to our corral, we ended up in the back of the wave, a mistake we’d pay for throughout the race as we passed runner after runner through the 26. 2 miles.
After thirty-five minutes of waiting, at 10:15 a.m., the gun sounded and we were off. Hah, not really. The gun went off and we walked/shuffled our way forward until the crowd started to separate enough that we could break into a slow jog. By that time, we were on the uphill portion of the Verrazano Bridge, which is almost two miles long, and the only sound was runners’ shoes slapping the concrete. Looking across the water to Manhattan, I was struck by the enormity of this task. I would finish the race in Manhattan and it looked quite far away from where I was. At the same time, it was a crystal clear blue-sky day and Manhattan looked beautiful – like my own Shangri-la.
Once we entered the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, it was a whole other story. The people of New York City turn out for this marathon and give the runners love. I mean LOVE! I’ve never, in all my life, been to a race with better athlete support. I elected to write my name on my running shirt in permanent marker and it was so worth it. Throughout the entire race, I’d hear shouts in all different accents, “Go Laura!” “Looking good, Laura!” “Stay strong, Laura!” And my heart would swell and I’d run a little bit faster – quite like Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel. Luckily, though, I didn’t let the crowd love dig me into a hole.
The miles clicked by one by one and I braced myself for the pain to set in, for the work to begin, but Tom and I felt great and we were having fun. Yes, fun! We yelled out comments to fellow runners, we high-fived fans, we raised our arms like Rocky, when someone yelled out my name. At one quiet point of the race, when we were headed over a small bridge, someone yelled out “Roberto!” to a runner. Just for kicks, I yelled “Roberto.” Next thing you know, there was a chorus of “Roberto” echoing over the bridge, followed naturally by “Marco!” and my response, of course: “Polo!” I know it sounds wacky but it we had a blast. When we hit the half-marathon point, I thought, now I’m going to fade and at mile 15, I slowed going over the Queensboro Bridge but I felt like the Little Engine That Could, amidst runners who were walking, sitting, and stretching cramped muscles.
At the end of the bridge, we turned a corner into a wall - but not the infamous marathon wall. Quite the opposite - this was a wall of cheers on 1st Avenue. I was the Queen of England, President Obama, RPattz, all rolled into one. I was a rock star as we motored down the wide swath of street with crowds six people deep screaming and yelling on both sides and the miles unfolding beneath us. We passed Edison Pena, the Chilean miner, running with two escorts. We saw a woman dressed as Wonder Woman and two men running in kilts. There went mile 18 and all of a sudden, there was mile 20!
Just before mile 24, as we made our way up the long, gentle incline of 5th Avenue, my legs tried to run a coup on the rest of my body. They realized that I was still running and they were pissed. That’s when Tom kicked it into high gear. As we rounded the corner into Central Park at mile 25, the crowd was thick and loud. Tom pointed to me and yelled, “Let’s hear some love for Laura!” The crowd went wild. He did it again and again, knowing that it would buoy me and knowing that there was no way I’d stop running when he had encouraged hundreds of people to scream my name. I wept and ran and when we saw the finish line, he grab my hand and we crossed together, arms up - in solidarity, in pride, in joy - for what we’d accomplished together. We'd finished the marathon in 4 hours and 11 minutes - beating my goal of 4:15.
From the glorious post-race blush of finishing, we were shuttled, like the walking dead, down a chute to pick up our finisher bags (more Gatorade, an apple, a Powerbar) and to the UPS trucks for all those clothes we’d stripped down back on Staten Island. We exited the race area at 77th street and hobbled and shivered our way back to our hotel, flapping foil wraps and weaving through reuniting families, closed streets and traffic cops to arrive at our warm, welcoming hotel a solid 80 minutes after we finished the race, just in time for the Eagles kick-off! Never in my life has a hot shower felt so good.
Based on an excellent recommendation from a friend at home, we hit JG Melon’s, unlikely favorite spot of prepsters and possibly the best bacon cheeseburger on the island. As we walked back to the hotel down Madison Avenue, we marveled at the amazing city, the incredible race and the perfect day.
The next morning, we made to the finisher’s expo where we bought lots of goodies. (I found out that it’s much more fun to visit the finisher’s expo when you are the one who finished the race, not just the spectator).
As if that wasn’t all enough, we stumbled onto the perfect place for breakfast - Le Pain Quotidien. It seemed that every European marathoner seemed to know about it. A German couple sat next to us, a huge party of Italians behind us, a British woman across the way and an Austrian father and son nearby. It was the end of our trip and we enjoyed a lovely meal in a tiny sliver of America that seemed to envelop the entire world. Just like the marathon.