Monday, November 04, 2013

A Tale of Two Marathons

A marathon is a marathon, right?  No way!  The 26.2-mile distance is not one size fits all.  The experience varies depending on so many factors - course scenery, race organization, weather, you name it.  The same race can be awesome or a death march depending on the year.  With that in mind, imagine running two marathons within three weeks of each other.  Not exactly the wisest race planning on my part, but the point was not necessarily beating my personal best, although I did in one race.  I ended up learning a lot about myself in the process.

Buenos Aires was meant to be a fun race.  It was supposed to allow me to eat and drink whatever I wanted while in Argentina.  Having run outside the US, I was prepared for a more no-frills experience, and the expo definitely had less swag than others.  The custom t-shirt printing and photo booths were really nice touches tho.  We all have some nice memories from the day.  There is also minimal pomp and circumstance on race morning.  We were able to take pictures on the winner's podium, which probably would have gotten us arrested in New York, but otherwise you are on your own for refreshments,

If you're going to run a race in South America, it really helps to speak and read Spanish.  The website is not translated well, and it helps to compare with the Spanish pages.  Moreover, there are some English speakers, but it is so much easier to get around in the native tongue.  We also warmed up with a bunch of Chileans, and those of us who understand Spanish were able to follow along with the coach's affirmations - "You all have earned the right to be here!"

First half of Buenos Aires is pretty cool.  Big boulevards, nice neighborhoods, some spectating.  It helped that a fellow English-speaker ran with me for the first half of the race.  He was an Aussie who used to live in New York, so we had much to discuss that helped the first 21.1k pass quickly.  This all changes around the halfway mark.  There was a fire off to the right as we hung a left through La Boca that we later found out was a Molotov cocktail that destroyed someone's house.  Running under a highway through illegal squats was pretty depressing.  Children waved at us, but the adults did not seem pleased we were running through their backyard.  Otherwise there were no spectators, which is expected near a marsh and next to the commercial shipyard.  Those spectators that were there only seemed to care about their friends, though our USA t-shirts probably didn't help.  At some point there was no shade either, and for the last 10k the sun came out.  Add to that no more water and refreshments at the later kilometers for my compatriots, which is pretty poor.  I managed to squeak out a 9-minute PR, but then trying to find a bus or a cab was sheer torture.  Between traffic and crowding, I'm lucky I located my friends and made it back to the hotel intact.  Lesson learned: arrange post-race transportation ahead of time.  The consomme they prepared for us back at the hotel hit the spot, and post-race steak and Cabernet filled us all up.

New York is a whole other story.  Weekly emails, multilingual support, advertising, massive spectating, the New York Marathon is an Event, capital E, like no other.  It spoils you for most other races.  Plus it's my hometown so I was guaranteed to know racers and spectators.  Having already had a good marathon, and having slacked off in my training after Argentina, I wanted to focus on having fun and just taking it all in.  The Javits Center is about 20 times the size of the BA expo, and NYRR really outdid themselves to make this year even more fantastic.  Getting there is an easy subway ride, and you don't have to speak English.  My aunt even let me crash at her place the night before which saved me so much time.  Getting to Staten Island was a bit stressful as I just missed getting on my ferry, but there was another.  I ended up having plenty of time to get ready on the other side and was able to hang with friends and take pictures.  The energy is palpable in the waiting areas, especially as prior waves take off.  And then in the blink of an eye, you peel off your old clothes and make your way over the Verrazano.  The wind ripped the electrical tape right off my chest within a mile.  Plus you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a police helicopter.  No one was getting away with any funny business.  Brooklynites had a lot of spirit, and I gave out my first hugs about an hour and a half into the race.  It was so awesome to see old friends out there, really kept me going.  Having my phone and texting spectators made a big difference and didn't slow me down.  I made sure to give out big hugs.  Even Hasidic Williamsburg, thought modestly silent, had a decent amount of spectators.  I also had phenomenal splits heading to the 59th St Bridge (sorry Ed Koch, I refuse to change).  My joints started to creak once I hit First Avenue from the headwinds and the cold.  No more PR.  Though I was still excited to see friends, I slowed down a lot and had to stop and stretch very frequently.  I think I even cried a few times from the pain.  At one point I ran into an acquaintance alongside Central Park, and his response to my lamentation was, "Of course it's going to hurt, you're running a marathon!"  My parents were waiting for me at mile 25, which gave me another boost to keep going.  Somehow, I made it across the finish line.  While the Hospital for Special Surgery swag bags were great, the death march to the exit was awful.  The moaning and groaning on the way out of the park corroborated how I felt.  My early exit couldn't have come soon enough!  How my parents thought I'd be able to get to the east side, I have no idea, and it took them forever to get to the west side.  I was really upset to find out once I moved west that I did not get an early exit poncho.  Grrrrr!  Despite all that, the New York Marathon was an awesome experience, and I'm proud to have taken part.

Having my friends and family along the way was awesome, which only reinforced what I know I need in my own life.  Also, it really hit me that I do need to work a bit harder to make my goals a reality, plan better and be more consistent.  It's OK for me to prioritize training and relaxation, and it's not something I should shunt to the side for a deadline or someone else's change of plans.  Most of all, it's OK to not have a solid measurable goal and to just enjoy the moment.  I would like to run faster, but to just be able to run this year and have the race happen, was enough in the end for me.