This is the song that never ends...: 11/06/2005 - 11/13/2005

This is the song that never ends...

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

It all comes down to this. Part II

I slept like crap Saturday night. I kept having dreams that I missed the race or that the hotel-room alarm clock wasn’t set correctly. I must have woken up every hour just to check the time. When the clock finally went off at 4:30a, I hit snooze. John turned over and started growling, “No, no, no---we are not doing this again. Get up now!” I oozed out of bed and started the in-room coffee-pot (even though I never did drink it). I grabbed an apple-juice and stole a bagel from the basement storage area of the hotel. John walked me to the subway stop, gave me a quick kiss and wished me luck.

Once on the subway, a man seated next to me must have noticed the chip on my shoe and the Participant Handbook that I was carrying. Our conversation went like this:

Him (in a very thick, middle-eastern accent) “Are you running today?”

Me: “Yes, I am.”

“How long is this run?”

“It’s just over 26 miles.”

“Ha! I can’t run two blocks! How you do this?”

“If you practiced, I bet you could do it, too.”

At this point the train has stopped and several runners have gotten up to get off.

(Said in a very dramatic way with a sweeping motion of his hand) “Good luck to you and to all the other marathon!”

That was just the coolest.

Once off the train, it seemed like every single person on that platform was running. Which makes sense considering that it was, like, 6:10a on a Sunday morning---who else is on the subway? We all filed out up the stairs, with our UPS bags in tow, super-conveniently right into the line for the busses. Honestly, the timing or placement couldn’t have been better. Once in line, there were dozens of volunteers clapping, telling us to show our numbers and wishing us luck. My heart was starting to get very full and I couldn’t wipe the perma-grin that was all over my face. I must have looked ridiculous…

I sat down on the bus and a very nice, older gentleman sat next to me. He’s run a billion marathons and ultras and offered me tips and such. He told me about how his wife didn’t come this time because the hotel rates were so high-so he decided to stay at the ‘Y’ about a quarter mile away from the finish line. He seemed so happy as he described his cell-like accommodations.

We were on the bus for what seemed like forever. It had to have been close to two hours. There was some huge traffic jam and it was so disheartening to see all of the empty busses driving past us in the on-coming lanes. I had visions of being the last bus to arrive and not having time to finish eating or go to the bathroom----ack! I was seriously starting to stress. It was at about this point that some runners got up and demanded that the bus-driver open the doors to let us off. We were ridiculously close to the staging area and even though the bus driver protested, he just couldn’t compete with a bunch of nervous runners with full bladders yelling at him. Poor guy. He never stood a chance.

There was a buzz in the air. Music was playing on the bridge. Runners were either bustling around with coffees in hand or lying on their yoga mats reading the paper. Lines were getting long at the potties so I stopped there first. I only had to wait about ten minutes or so and the potty was in pretty decent shape. Definitely a good omen.

I grabbed a bagel and a cookies-n-cream Power Bar – which I normally abhor - and ate like it was the most amazing meal of my life. I still don’t know why it tasted so good - even when I think about it now, my stomach turns at the thought of those bars. I had a cup of yummy, green Gatorade and sipped my water, too. I didn’t want to have to go to the bathroom again before the start, so I was careful not to fill my bladder too quickly.

After I loaded my bag onto my designated UPS truck, I took a seat on a curb and began stretching a bit. I kept looking for the 5:00 pace group and never did find them. I met a sweet woman from the Netherlands. She told me this was her first marathon and that she was nervous. We both exchanged a few pleasantries and offered encouragement to one another. It was at this time that I met Gianine. Gianine was also looking for the 5:00 pace group so we stuck together to see if we could find them, and at the very least, we could try our best together to see if we could keep each other on pace.

All of a sudden, the runners started lining up in their corrals and began moving in a slow shuffle. I think I caught the tail-end of the national anthem and then heard the cannon. Everyone cheered and started shuffling slowly. It took us almost 13 minutes to make it to the starting line.

The run up the bridge was surprisingly easy and after Gianine and I complained about summer training runs, we both agreed that they were worth it. It was getting pretty hot out there on the top portion of the bridge and I was really beginning to regret not putting on sunblock (it was supposed to be CLOUDY!!!)

It was quiet on the bridge and our side (blue bibs) seemed sparse. Contrary to what I had imagined, there was plenty of room and I only saw a couple of men peeing on the edge. Once we made it to the crest, it felt nice to let the descent do most of the work and just ease on down. Our legs were still fresh and we were running at a comfortable pace getting to know each other. Once we got to the end of the bridge, I got my first taste of what would be the very essence of this race……..the spectators. I am still moved when I think of every single man, woman and child who stood on the sidelines to cheer on a complete stranger like myself. I wore a human bumper sticker across my chest that said CAROL in black marker. John told me that if I wore something that had my name on it, people might cheer for me.


For the next 24 miles, the cheers were continuous, “Go Carol!” “Carol, you look great!” “Almost there, Carol!” “Carol, you’re awesome!” “Carol, baby, lookin’ good!” The best part is the way that New Yorkers say ‘Carol’. The ‘Ca’ gets pronounced long and drawn out—it’s awesome! It made me feel like I had the best name ever. And the one that will forever stay etched in my brain…. as we made our way through Brooklyn, a man on the sidewalk met eyes with me and said, “Hey, Carol! Welcome to Brooklyn! How you doin’?” He said it with the thickest New York slant you can imagine. It was wonderful.

The rest of the miles are mostly blurry. I remember certain moments throughout the race:

The Hasidic neighborhood, eerily quiet with lots of people passing through the streets as if a race wasn’t going on.

The 2nd to last bridge (I think) that made me want to scream. The incline felt like it lasted forever and the descent felt way too harsh---that one was tough.

The Korean couple in front of me. I greet them with an “On Yong Ah Seh Yo” and the husband looked at me, then at his wife. He asked me if I spoke Korean and I responded that I only spoke a little bit. They laughed and waved me on.

I remember someone lying on the side of the road with several other runners and some medics---he looked like he was going into some type of seizure. I hope he’s okay.

Natasha---dressed in a blue running skirt and a blue tank top. I paced with her for a while and we exchanged greetings. She’s from New York. She told me that she liked the Strawberry/Banana Powergel better than the Chocolate.

A gentleman who was also supposed to be with the elusive 5:00 pace team. He wore a red T-shirt, thanked me for my pace and said I was doing great for a first-time marathoner.

The countless little kids throughout the course that held bags of mini-Snickers and Hershey Miniatures and called out the names of runners who passed them by.

Every single beverage volunteer who took the time to say, “Here you go, Carol!”

The most awesome smell of fresh baked doughnuts around mile 18 (?)

Some woman holding her dog and waving his paws at me.

Countless bands and artists playing their musical instruments just to entertain the runners.

Windows of Brownstones wide open with stereos blaring into the street.

There were so many little moments that I remember – and together, they made for the most amazing day of my life. There was a moment near the end of the race, when Central Park was in my sights and the end of the course could just be felt in the air. Everyone’s pace was picking up and the energy was almost tangible. All at once, it felt like every awful, unhappy, uncomfortable moment of my life was vivid in my brain. Every low feeling I’ve ever experienced. Every fight I’ve ever had-mental and physical. It all sat on my chest and I started to tear up. I never had a full-out cry, just wet eyes and a heavy feeling on my body. It was like all the unhappiness was just falling like bricks onto me. This lasted for about a mile. It was then that I saw John---holding up his sign that he made for me with a very personal message on it. We locked eyes and the four women standing next to him were yelling my name. He didn’t have to say a word. We just looked at each other and smiled. Then I saw the 800 meter mark… the 400 meter mark…. I could see the finish line!

I can’t remember if I crossed the finish line with my arms up or down or if I made any type of victory pose. I just remember being handed my medal and starting to hyperventilate. At least I think that’s what it was-it’s never happened to me before. It felt like all the sadness that climbed into my pores in the last mile of the race was coming out and just going away. All that I had left was pure happiness. I’ve always loved the word ‘joy’ but never thought I had ever really felt it. This had to be it. I took some deep breaths and got my thermal blanket thingy taped around my shoulders. It was still warm and I didn’t think I’d need it but it was nice---and form-flattering, too.

We were handed water and goody bags that had a Powerbar, apple, bagel and some Tylenol in it. I took out the apple and almost had sex with it. It looked so good-I was practically stroking it. A volunteer looked at me and laughed. I smiled at her and told her that it looked like the most delicious apple ever (apparently the euphoria was still pretty prevalent-even in my taste buds). I just can’t get describe enough how happy I was. After a quick stretch on a barricade, we made our way to the baggage claim area. I saw John and he took a couple pictures of me after yelling to me that he was proud of me. After we met up in the area corresponding to our last name’s initial, we made the VERY slow journey back to the hotel. My legs were unbelievably tight, but I was happy to feel every single twinge. Once in the subway, the person behind the glass made an announcement that anyone who ran the marathon got free fare today and to just stand by the gate and open it. I thought that was pretty cool.

We got to the hotel subway stop and John asked if I was hungry. We saw a Korean noodle restaurant near the hotel and I told him that I could do that for dinner. He sent me back to the room to shower while he ordered some dinner for us. He was only gone for a little while when he came back with a sack of White Castle and a bag of doughnuts. He said that the noodle place looked gross so he grabbed the sliders and he remembered me telling him about the wonderful doughnut smell and hoped the Dunkin’ Donuts would suffice. I couldn’t have been happier. I ate five burgers without flinching and polished off a honey cruller --- then promptly fell asleep.

The nighttime was tough. Every time I moved, my knees would ache and I would wake up. We slept in for a little while and finally made our way to the continental breakfast area for a bite. I wore my NYRRC long-sleeve freebie T-shirt and got a bunch of really nice comments. The best one was as we were getting on the plane. The stewardess smiled at me and said she thought she recognized me. She asked for my name and when she noticed my shirt, she congratulated me and made a joke about how if it had been her, she’d still be running. We had a quiet laugh and I found my seat. Later, as she was going through the safety procedures, she stopped at the end of the spiel and asked everyone to “…please give Carol Lee in seat 7A a round of applause! She finished the New York City Marathon yesterday!” Thanks, Noreen! You rock! I eat that dorky shit right up.

So, here I am three days later. The soreness is almost all gone. I’m itching to get back to working out and it all comes down to this:

On Sunday, November 6th, 2005, I completed the New York City Marathon.

Contrary to prior fears,
I did not throw up.
I did not shit myself.
I did not collapse to the ground.
I did not wonder if I could finish.
I did not wish it would just end already.
I ran (okay, okay… jogged) 26.2 miles in a net time of 5:40:04.
I also realized just who I am and what I have.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

It all comes down to this. Part I

I’ll start from the very beginning---this is more for myself than for storytelling, so those of you who just want the meat and potatoes of the race may want to skip ahead or just go look at something on Ebay.

I had to work late on Friday night and didn’t get home until after 8:00p. John was kind enough to get the laundry train moving and had most of my clothes (technical gear and otherwise) washed, dried and folded in neat, little piles-he’s good like that. I started packing and going over my checklist of what to bring, took a quick shower and spent the rest of the night (almost until 1:00a!) scanning the NYRRC website, selecting music for my mp3 player and just trying to shake off all of the nervous energy that I had.

Our flight was for 6:05a the next morning and since we live about 90 minutes from the airport-in another country, we thought it would be a good idea to leave the house around 3:45-4:00a---which meant getting up at around 3:00a (yeah, tell me about it.)

Saturday morning I woke up to: “Fuck! Carol, it’s four-o-clock! Shit---we gotta go!” We made the mad dash around the house to pick up any straggling remains of our packing…. ummm, my packing, and jumped in the car sans coffee. Needless to say, the ride to the airport was a bit…..tense. We were both a bit snippy and stressed because there was a very large possibility that we could miss the flight. And that would suck.

We got to the airport with time to spare, but soon realized that the terminal we thought we were departing from was deserted or closed down or something equally stupid and had to hoof-it for what felt like half a mile. And anyone else who’s had to fly out of Detroit Metro’s Smith Terminal----is it just me or do the American Airlines gates look like a really run-down trailer park? Anyway… our plane was a puddle-jumper and the look on John’s face was priceless. “That’s not our plane, is it?” He was practically turning green just looking at it. I popped a Dramamine for good luck…

The flight was unremarkable-smooth takeoff and landing and once we arrived in NY, it finally started to feel real. We hopped in a cab and made our way to the La Quinta hotel on Queens and 38th. Nice enough hotel-the staff are kinda strange. Very soup-nazi-esque. They wouldn’t allow an early check-in, but let us drop off our bags since we arrived so early. We then headed to the marathon expo at the Javits Center and I think I may have fallen in love with running all over again.

The expo was very well organized (note: bring your own bottled water-the vendors outside the expo in the kiosks try to get away with selling 16 oz bottles of water for $2.75 ROBBERY) and everyone was just so helpful and kind. When you first walk in, they usher you into a line to get registered and pick up your packet which includes your race number, chip and all the fun freebie stuff. It was all just so overwhelming for this first-time marathoner. When the gentlemen stamped my registration card and directed me to the proper booth, he looked me in the eyes, smiled and said, “Good luck!” This is where the welling-of-the-eyes started. I knew it would happen eventually, probably that night or something, but I had no idea I was gonna start losing it this early. Every time someone offered me a sample of something (note: the Powerade Endurance formula is absolutely horrendous-go for the Gatorade instead) and said any kind word to me, I just looked at them very seriously and thanked them profusely---what a newbie!

We wandered around the expo and accepted practically every, little freebie handed to us. John really wanted a lanyard that the Army was offering, but I didn’t feel like getting recruited… I bought a long-sleeve running top instead and signed up with the 5:00 pace team. They promised that anyone running with the pace group would finish no more that two minutes earlier than their scheduled time and there was some other guarantee about finishing a few seconds before the 5-hour mark, but I can’t remember exactly what they were.

After we were loaded down with about 5 bags worth of goodies, we made our way back to Grand Central station for some lunch. I had a slice of pizza and figured we should head back to the hotel room to wind down a bit. I also wanted to get my number pinned to my singlet and put my name on the cool ING fabric/human bumper sticker/thing that they handed out at the expo. Once we got back to the hotel room, we showered the frazzled morning away and decided that: 1. the night was still young, 2. we were in New York 3. I wanted to do a practice run of how to get to the morning busses to the start 4. I could really use a new purse.

We traipsed around Times Square, grabbed a couple Frappaccinos oozing with whipped cream and made our way to Central Park. The air just seemed to be filled with so much energy. The entrance to the Park was barricaded off and there were a bunch of runners. We sat for a bit and turned back for the hotel. I picked up a NY pretzel (c’mon, a girl’s gotta carb-up before the big race!) and also snagged a couple purses – bought in true New York style – off of a blanket on the sidewalk. I talked a mean deal, too.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Dear Diary,

Yesterday I ran in the New York City Marathon.

(details and pictures to follow tomorrow...)
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