My First New York City Marathon, Mike Gerzevitz
The iPhone happy chimes emanate. It's 5:30 a.m., East Village of Manhattan. Groggy, I get up and look out the window. No rain. A good sign. The only times I have run marathons - both earlier this year - it seemed to rain that day. On the contrary, today would prove to be ultimate marathon conditions, hence the record set later in the day by a mellow Kenyan at 2 hours and 5 minutes. But before he achieved this feat, I was thinking about coffee and french toast.
Hitting up an old East Village standard I swayed into Veselka on 2nd Ave in my sweats and engaged in a feed. It would be burned up soon in the 26.2 miles I planned to run. Strange feeling to wake up and go through these motions: apprehension, calmness and exhilaration, all wrapped up in the swirl of maple syrup floating atop my challah bread breakfast.
Decided to grab a cab instead of the subway since it was early on a Sunday - having lived in the city for eight years back in the Grandmaster Flash-soaked '80's, I knew trains would be scattered at this hour. Besides, I wanted to arrive at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal in style.
Well, no paparazzi were flashing as I made my exit at the terminal entrance. No red carpet. Just me and my official plastic bag holding my vitals. The sun had risen and the image of hundreds of people streaming into the terminal with one goal in mind - RUN - was irresistible. All races, ages, genders and walks of life were represented. We were whisked into the main holding chamber and then released upon the ferry.
As we pulled off the dock at the southern tip of Manhattan I felt something was missing. A strange realization: the many times I'd ridden the Staten Island Ferry I always looked back to see those two ominous towers gleaming back. It was the lack of the World Trade Center buildings that caused feelings of confusion, and acceptance. Time marches on.
The ferry was packed with people in various degrees of running gear, all carrying official NYC Marathon plastic like some new-age refugee boat headed to a sanctuary. But our destination was Staten Island - sanctuary for some, strange place for the rest of us. The winds were calm and the sun started warming the air. I had a good feeling we were in for some perfect running conditions.
The ferry docked and it was a mass exodus. We were herded onto waiting buses for our small journey through some of the more colorful areas of New York City - the hills of Staten Island. Crawling through some proud and squalid neighborhoods we finally stopped near the entrance to Fort Wadsworth.
It had a strange FEMA camp quality: to be herded off buses, enter a military base, and be directed according to your number and color. I was in the third wave, green. The sun was now up full and the autumn air crisp and perfect.
Loudspeakers blared out instructions to the "refugees.” I got up to the brown UPS truck with my bag and handed off my phone and sweats. I wanted to do this as light as possible. Last time I did this, at the Los Angeles Marathon, rain caused volunteers to abandon their posts and it was a mad scramble to get my gear back. Seeing the folks in the brown uniforms handling my package reinforced my faith that I would see it at the end.
After some banana and stretching, I laid down for a bit on a patch of grass in my green section. *BANG*! The first gun went off and I watched the first wave from below. The loudspeakers beckoned us to load into the corrals for the third and final wave. I started to herd myself along, past a stage with the first of many bands playing upbeat rock and boosting the carnival atmosphere. Making my way towards the front I realized that my bib number put me towards the front of the starting line, since I had run my previous marathon under five hours.
One last pee (until the Queensboro Bridge) and we were released to the starting line. How fortunate! I was almost right up front. Looking up the empty roadway of the bridge was bizarre. Where cars normally raced, a few people in orange vests tried to clear some of the discarded hats and gloves left behind from the other waves. I was relieved to see the fleet of UPS trucks driving in formation on the other side of the bridge towards Brooklyn, and eventually Central Park. Now I was going to chase my stuff back 26.2 miles through New York City.
A slight tear came to my eye as the Star Spangled Banner was sung over the loudspeaker. Not from a patriotic fervor, but from realizing how far I had come to get to this moment - standing at the starting line for the 2011 NYC Marathon.
*BANG*! Time to run