yesterday, 26.2 in 3:25 and change. For anyone who wants a tl;dr, read on.....names changed to protect the innocent....(sam, enjoy) I hope I get all of this "right"--that's why I'm putting it down as soon as possible. If you have any inclination towards running, this is the marathon to try: I woke up before my alarm at 5:25am. My bag was packed, all of my neon clothes were clean, I just needed to fix breakfast and go. I ate two blueberry toaster waffles with peanut butter in the middle. I might not be Wade Boggs and his fried chicken, but I like to keep my routine before races. Pre-Race It is a bear transporting yourself from home to the start line of the marathon. I took a taxi with members of my running club to the Staten Island Ferry. Just as we were arriving to the Ferry, they directed the giant crowd of people in the terminal of move all the way to the far ferry door for an approaching boat. Sweet we had an unimpeded line right to the ferry doors. We walked all the way through the ferry to the back. We took pictures and posted them on facebook for our friends. We looked at the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in the distance. We chatted about how excited we were. We were really excited. A running pal, swaddled in her giant Mets blanket, said to me, "Dude, 364 days runners are picked on, ridiculed, "raced" for half a block, and then on the 365th day, everyone lines the streets and cheers for you." I wondered to myself if this was a classically New York City reaction--a grudging respect for everything we endure, a reward for one short day before everyone goes back to picking on us. It's beautiful either way. We get off the ferry and our group swells to include a few more friends as we walk to a giant line of tour buses that will transport us to the start. This was a difficult part of the experience, only because our ride to the start line takes almost 30 minutes. The bus is full of runners, happily chatting away in 5 different languages. The ride lulls, stretches, becomes uncomfortably long. Watches are checked and rechecked. The windows are totally fogged up--everyone is wearing 5 layers of clothing to keep the heat in and shed just as they start to run. Enough! We arrive at the start and are herded through security pens, where private forces (Blackwater, my how the mighty have fallen!) demand to see our official bibs under our layers. One member of our cadre, wearing a snuggie, disappears via some sort of profiling exercise. No matter, no one can run the marathon for you, and at some point in the next few minutes, this will shift from being a collective to an individual experience. No one else can run the race for you. I make final preparations- a tiny cup of dunk'n donuts coffee, an energy bar, lots of NEON. Turquoise shirt, Neon Green Arm warmers, neon yellow socks. My special lady has expertly sewn my name in bright green letters across my running top. I start to feel ready to be powerful. I also feel as if each moment, each task, has taken on new intensity. Like I've taken smelling salts. My breathing is fast, but it feels deep. My eyes are clear. All day, I have felt extremely alert--wide awake. Sneakers on/laces perfect/bag drop/get to the corrals before they close....get to the corrals before they close! I need to jog to the corrals, which close 45 minutes before the race begins--I can't fault the NYC Marathon for this--they need time to dye the water under the bridge orange, coordinate the helicopters, the ambulances, the street closures, the cops, the water stations, the pace cars--man, everything. As much as I would like to check it out, I jog right past the minyan--male marathoners tying tefillin and dovening. As I dive into the corral, the volunteer announces, "Okay, that's the last one." Jesus, I came within 5 seconds of starting an hour late. We're in a plywood walled staging area, basically a giant line for the porto-let. I get on it, as it seems to be the thing to do. The line has not moved ten minutes later when we are moved onto the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Still 30 minutes to race start. I hear the female elite start. Mary Wittenberg says, "Ladies, the streets of New York are yours.." POW, the gun. I think that's just a beautiful way to put it. All of this work, toil, coordination and execution is the same as wrapping a present--now, I give it to you, all 47,109 of you. The Race We're still waiting in the corral--nervously chatting. Clothes fly over the sides of the bridge periodically. I proudly tell the man next to me, I'm a local, when he asks where I'm from. We're going to run through my neighborhood today. Finally, the Star Spangled Banner. As is my custom pre-race, I ignore the tune and focus on my legs, my arms, bouncing around. My brain feels sharp. It really all comes down to the next 3 hours. I do a quick Tebow. No, I don't. Finally: "Are you ready to run?" THE CANNON, startling everyone, then "New York, New York" hits the speakers. I shuffle towards the starting line, then click my stopwatch, cross the timing pad, and a year after I realized I would be exactly where I am now, I am there. The New York City Marathon. The top of the bridge is bright and beautiful. My green arms are almost hurting my eyes. This would be a recurring theme for about 15 miles, but my stride. oh my god, I told myself I would hold back, but it's proud and strong, my back is high, my knees snap back and forth--it's the best running feeling ever. Surely I'm not going too fast, right? I feel great, restrained and smart even. The Verrazano Narrows Bridge is the longest and steepest on the course, but it feels totally flat. I don't even notice the hill. The race is not as crowded as I feared--my pace is fast enough that only an idiot would try to run this fast. I learn later that at this point I was clicking off miles at 7:06 apiece. I marveled at how great I felt, how heartily I would shatter my goal. I descent the bridge into Bay Ridge. The spectators and the noise they make are not a trickle that turns into a downpour, but a downpour that turns into a deluge. Kids, families, elderly, everyone is out cheering. Moms bring a cooler and cutting board from their house and let their kids pass out orange slices. I'm not low on sugar yet, but thank you. I love you. We turn onto 4th ave in Brooklyn at, 98th street, maybe? It's daunting to run down numbered streets to 0, especially when it's 98 to go until you turn right. Who cares, I feel Great! There are dozens and dozens of kids looking for high fives on the course, usually in a row of 3 or 4 little hands. I run down the left side, realizing quickly that if I stay on the side, about a dozen people every block will yell, "[name redacted], GO, GO GO, Looking Good!" I give out more high fives then miles I will run today. This four miles is really a total cacophony. You run through a neighborhood of white folks, they are banging cowbells and yelling. You run through a Mexican neighborhood, the vatos with tattoos and saggy jeans are yelling your name. I am not embellishing. I'm excited for my first glimpse on my small cheering section at mile 8, but in this moment, I can wait--Running this marathon, it is as if everyone is cheering for you. Not just the herd, but you alone. I wonder if I will get sick of hearing my name. I never do. Fourth Avenue is one of the best parts of the course for cheering, later, a fellow runner told me he felt the same, that the cheering was just so personal, so full of real love and excitement. Especially compared to those vapid manhattanites, descending their high rises to cheer for a few minutes before retreating back to their Sunday routine. Mile 8ish at this point. I clear 4th avenue and hey, I'm really getting somewhere. Long ass way to go, but can't start thinking like that. 4th Ave is the longest straight away on the course and I have conquered it, going fastfastfast. I turn onto Lafayette, perhaps a mile stretch before turning towards my neighborhood on Bedford Avenue. This is one of the places where the cheering swells and takes on a new life, louder, more exciting. You can sense how all the runners around you feel, "Will it really be like this the whole time?" It can truly send chills down your spine. I spot my family and they spot me due to my outfit. I raise my arms, swing my hat around to get the crowd fired up and let loose a primal, "Yeahhhhhhhhhh!" My brother-in law gets a high-five. I will see them again at mile 23. Things will be different then. Bedford Avenue. Is it too early for Bed Stuy? Nope, black folks are barbecuing and smoking cigarettes outside, hanging out and cheering. Next neighborhood on Bedford: Hasidic WIlliamsburg. Surely, surely the Hasids will ignore these crazy runners. For the most part, they do, but even there! No cheering, but a few families and clusters of men, watching silently, but not warily as is their usual temperament towards the outside world. Watching with openness and relaxation in their body language. A tight-bodied female runner in tight little clothes waves to a group of the men. They don't do anything and I explain to her that this is a big no no, though I still find it quite funny. We are getting closer to my neighborhood now, Greenpoint. Perhaps another 1.2 miles. Bedford is narrow compared to other parts of the course and the runners bunch in. I hook up with one of my teammates. One whom I told myself before the race that if I ran with on the course, I would be going way way way too fast. These thoughts are so far away now. We work together, chatting a little and encouraging each other. I think that I was wrong--hey, Cara and I can push together through this whole race and shatter our goals by ten minutes apiece! Hooray! You might have guessed we aren't halfway through yet. My running team is handing out bananas and donuts to those "in the know" at a secret aide station beyond the regular station. I need a banana. Except, whoops, I charge through the aid station cheering and yelling to friends I spot, and I'm 100 yards past them when I realize I was too overwhelmed to find the aide station and grab food. Luckily, we turn onto Manhattan Avenue and get bananas from a little kid handing them out. I'm careful to trash the peel so that no one slips on it. We flow up onto the Pulaski bridge and hit the halfway mark. 1:34:11 for the first half. Yikes, really fast, but I'm still not sure I'm going to pay for it. My thoughts now are on the Queensborough Bridge. I think back to all the mornings I woke up in the dark, thinking about this moment, getting up to run. All the hill repeats until my lungs burst. I'm still with Cara as we near 15 miles. I look her in the eye. "Cara, this is it. I love you and it is an honor to have this experience with you." The bridge is closed to spectators. We take shorter steps, giving each other short, breathless instructions. "Take it easy, almost there. BREATHE." There are no spectators now, only runners. Manhattan awaits. We reach the flat on top of the bridge and I'm elated. That wasn't so bad! More instructions. "Stay in control, shake out, recover." The bridge slips downhill. I realize an essential flaw in my training strategy. This long downhill is not comfortable. In fact, the opposite. It starts to hurt quite a bit. I'm struggling. Cara knows, without looking. "Can you hear it?" she says. I realize I can. Manhattan is waiting for us. The bridge falls away and the din grows. We turn onto 59th and then up First Avenue. I can't believe I'm here. First avenue, second-to-last borough for the first time. The road is wide, closed to traffic, and spectators line the sides. Clearly this is a big family meetup spot. Runners go to the sides for their energy gels, special drinks, kisses from husbands and wives, to cradle the babies for a moment. I start to fall away from my teammate, five steps then ten. I'm okay with it. Run your race, listen to your body. And on up 1st. The sun beats down. Dana runs by, looking strong. So that's why you start out slow. So you have something left to finish strong. 17 miles and 9 to go. A dark realization of what is left in my body. My heart and arms are strong, my legs taking on more and more distress. I had hoped this would happen 5 miles from now, but no. A long way down and a long way to go. Still, I tell myself to breathe, to push forward, DON'T BLOW IT. This is everything you trained for, everything you wanted and you must make it. I'm slowing down as we reach the Willets Avenue Bridge into the Bronx, just a little bump. I pass one of the fastest girls I know, walking along the side. I pat her back and offer what little encouragement I can. She is way too tough to drop out. I'd see her again in 7 miles, recovered enough to pass me and exceed my time by two minutes. In the Bronx there is Coca Cola on the side of the race at an impromptu aid station. Tempting, but lethal. I pass. A 1/2 mile skip through the Bronx and across a little bridge into Manhattan. On the bridge, a rock in the stream, police and volunteers standing in the road, a very fit looking girl motionless, splayed out on the concrete. A sad, dark thing to see anytime, especially so here. I only include this because a teammate tells me later that he came by a few minutes later and she was smiling and alert, standing and being helped to the side. But I didn't know it then. This reminds me that I'm doing okay, not as good as some, but better than most, and also the essential danger for anyone partaking in this activity. Crazy to try to run this far as fast as you can. I'm on 5th avenue in upper harlem, the sun right in my face. The crowds are great. I have 30 blocks to go until my family at 108, and I want a hug and a moped to get me to the end. There is still that last hill-->108 to 90th maybe, heart and body breaking. I'm trudging now, and when I finally, finally find my family I half collapse into their arms for a triple hug. I want to stay like this forever. At least for a couple seconds, but my lady, bless her, motherly in this tender moment, offers me a Clif Bar and lightly pushes me off them. "You need to keep going." I find Cara again, stretching on the side of the road. Twice more she would pass me and I would return the favor as she stretched her calves, looking forlorn and frustrated. She would finish nearly 8 minutes after me. Finally, the hill, the last test. Without being too gory, I notice pain and the first signs of blood on my shirt. I don't see looks of horror from the spectators who egg me on, so some people must look worse. Some people do look worse, in fact. The end of the marathon is ugly. Walkers, limpers, people stretching, leaning on a loved one's shoulder for support, ever trying to FINISH. Helen passes me. Ever the pragmatist she says, "Tough day for everyone, just knock it out. Finish." This is strangely freeing. I realize that I've paced myself badly and that it's too late for an amazing time. It isn't, however, too late for an amazing accomplishment. I trudge up the hill, grim and set on finishing at a pace I can handle. My legs want to seize up and cramp, first my calves and quads, then my groin, and finally, everything all at once, one wrong step from being locked on the ground unable to move. I need to choose my pace and stride carefully now to avoid this. When I try to push, my leg tries to buckle, telling me that I'm precariously close to serious cramping. But the top of the hill and into Central Park. 2.5 miles to go? The blood gets worse, my bib is stained with it. A man passes and says, "What was your goal?" Shit, that obvious? I think. Closer and closer, another teammate. "I gave up," he says. I remember over and over that everyone is experiencing what I'm experiencing. A rapid crescendo of physical and mental anguish. But the last mile comes, as I trudge, trudge, trudge. It's hard to explain how you feel at this point. I've been running so long that my brain refuses to believe that it will ever end. Central Park South, a last dip outside the park and I hear voices call the team name on my jersey. My head whips to the crowd, desperate for a friendly face but I see no one. I'm grateful nonetheless, whether this is a friend or a stranger. Signs inside the park. 400 meters to go, 300, 200, 100. I raise my arms and try to look elated, recognizing that I want some sweet pictures of this moment. We'll see if I did a good job. I cross and slow to a walk with the herd. First, heat blankets. Everyone looked so different on the course and I've been thrown into 1984 all of the sudden. Everyone dressed exactly the same. Volunteers and medical picking runners from the crowd, running to them leaning against the fence. The finish of a marathon is surreal. Everyone totally delirious, brains struggling with the most mundane commands: walk, breath, etc. We are being herded through a chute of medals, blankets, water, food, then a long walk to baggage claim. No one but runners here now. Lots of eye contact, shared camaraderie, the first signs of smiles again. I can feel mine. I grab a medical tech and show him someone he doesn't see, wobbly and the beginnings of sick against the fence. Everyone together, trying to look out for each other. Bag check is a mess. 1000 bags in the pile that holds mine and they are in no order whatsoever. Everyone is just as deserving as the next to get theirs. I lose patience and find a supervisor, telling them that the people at truck 5000-5999 are in way over their heads. Soon 15 volunteers are trying to sort out the bags. I feel pressure against my shoulder. Next to me, a runner is leaning his head against me, shivering, his eyes fluttering open and closed. I put my hand on his shoulder, and say, "Are you okay? Do you need help?" "No..N-n-no, Can I just have your shoulder to rest on? I need my bag." I grab the first orange coated volunteer I see and help her get him to a seat, then get back to my bag. Finally, it's mine. I walk another 100 meters to Shake Shack. The race has been over long enough that I almost start to feel a little human again. My lady, brother in law and sister are easy to spot. My girlfriend hands me a milkshake with brownies and caramel in it. I eat almost half of it in 30 seconds before the ice cream headache hits. We take pictures, I change in the street, all the regular good post-marathon stuff. My tale ends here. There's more food, an ice bath, more limping, and many many joyous hugs at the post marathon party. Even a shot of Jamison. If you're wondering, I finished in 3:25 and change. The first half took me 1:34 and the second almost 1:52. I learned a lot, about myself, about New York, and most certainly about pain. If I ever do this again, I hope I can apply some of these things. But, if I had to guess, by the time registration opens for NYC 2012, it'll be just about the time that I've forgotten how difficult it was to finish this. And I'll do it all over again. With Love.