Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An Empire State of Mind

On the New York
I believe it’s come to pass that there are two types of people in this world: those who love New York, and those who hate it. My confession: I mostly fall into the latter. But when it comes to marathoning, how can New York not appear on your wish list?

I’ve spent the last couple months canvassing running friends (and strangers) alike about their thoughts on the New York Marathon. Answers have run the gamut, everything from “You must do it,” to “I’ve had no interest in ever doing it,” and “It’s going to beat the hell out of you.”

Even my grandmother has chimed in on the conversation.  It seems that her reference to running IS the NYC Marathon.  After asking how Boston went, the next question out of her mouth was, "Have you ever run New York?  When are you going to give that one a shot?"  Humph.

It wasn’t until this past Saturday that I became 100 percent convinced that I needed to run New York next year. I’ll admit that I got taken in by this year’s [running] press coverage, which seemed to me higher than usual. Of course this could be the byproduct of that effect where you decide you might want to buy a certain car and all the sudden you see a million of them on the road wherever you look.

Between Meb’s title defense, the Rookies vs. The World series, Dathan Ritzenheim’s return to the marathon, Haile Gebrselassie making his New York debut (and end), just to name a few storylines, I was hooked.

Add to that my running partner and I talking about training together and doing next year’s marathon, (his first), and the pendulum started to swing.

So, back to Saturday night. I’d committed to waking up Sunday morning and watching the NY Marathon (at least the elite race) in its entirety. Somehow I can watch a pack of 14 runners covering ground at just under five minute pace for two plus hours, but the thought of sitting through a baseball game makes me want to poke my eyes out. I digress. Saturday night: I park myself in front of the TV and try desperately to find where NBC Universal Sports is on the dial. I find it…channel 807. I had no idea our channels even went up that high.

What I stumbled upon was last year’s race, you know, the one where Meb Keflizighi became the first American male to win at NY since Alberto Salazar did it back in the 80s. This became to the American running world what the healthcare bill was to Joe Biden.

Meb Keflezighi in New York after his first marathon victory(Getty Images)
But I hadn’t actually seen the race yet. So I bought in at mile 22ish and watched Meb chase Robert Cheruiyot. Meb matched every surge that Cheruiyot threw at him. As the two prepared to enter Central Park, Meb pulled away. And the gap grew…and grew…and grew. Until finally Meb ran alone. You could hear the roar swell around him with each hill he crested. He flashed by the 400m to go sign and a huge smile broke over his face. He raised his arms. He pointed to the USA on his singlet. When he broke the tape, Meb’s hands went immediately to his eyes to soak up the tears and you could hear the heaving sobs as he made his way through the finish area. He crosses himself then drops down to kiss the pavement. Someone handed him an American flag, which he held open behind him, looked at the camera and said, “How about this?”

How about it indeed?  No need to look any farther for inspiration.

And on Sunday, I woke up -- a kid on Christmas morning -- and watched the women’s and men’s races from start to finish. I thought I might go between the Sunday Post, some coffee, some breakfast, but the next thing I knew, I got my first taste First Avenue's thunder.  Then, Shalane Flanagan broke off with Edna Kiplagat and Mary Keitany in those same Central Park Hills. My wife came down and joined me to see Shalane’s gutsy second place finish. Though Meb didn’t repeat in the men’s race, we celebrated the crowning of a new NYC Champion who’d never run a marathon in his life.

“So,” I said. “Inspired for your 12-miler?”
“Let’s get to it.”

We headed out the door, she to click off her last “long run” prior to the Philadelphia Marathon, and I carrying her water bottles on my bike.  Visions of elite runners and screaming fans danced through our heads.  I replayed the start over and over: the hordes of runners making their way across the Verrazano Bridge.  And when the lottery opened up on Monday morning, I hopped right on it and entered our names.  Fortunately, I met New York's automatic entry/qualification standard.  Now about that confirmation.

Though my wife and I each have a marathon scheduled between now and next year’s NYC marathon…we found one another in a New York state of mind.

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