Wednesday, November 6, 2013

My First Marathon (brief cameo by Pamela Anderson)

I should definitely be studying for the CFA, but while my body is still sore and aching I feel compelled to fire up the blog again to recount my first, and probably only, marathon experience on Sunday in NYC.  As some of you know, it's been a couple years since my last posts when I was unemployed and an International Man of Leisure.  Let's face it, working a 9am-6pm job is not nearly as exciting and New York just doesn't stimulate the creative juices like South America does.  However, the NYC marathon was an experience like no other, so let's dust off the writing rust and get it going.

Before talking about the race, I want to point out how much goes into running a race this long (26.2 miles to be exact), in the months before.  I've played tennis my whole life and this was really my first serious foray into another sport.  I started training in the spring of 2012 for the 2012 Marathon but Sandy had other plans so what was only supposed to be 7 months of training turned into over 1.5 years of it.  I'll spare you most of the gory details, but between the early morning races, long runs of over 10 miles on the weekends, yoga classes to prevent injury and physical therapy treatments, it ended up being a significant time and physical commitment.  Most people focus on the 26.2 miles on race day, but there's easily hundreds of miles of pounding the pavement before that just to be in a position to succeed when the big one arrives.  Of course, no one forced me to do it, and I was excited to learn about a new sport and all the intricacies that go into it.

That being said, I noticed improvement in the times I was running.  I went from my the longest run of my life being 3.5 miles before any training to running half-marathons in 2 hrs, 5 mins to running a personal best in September of 1 hour, 55 mins.  I even sprinted a mile in 6:22 a couple months ago, which was almost as fast as I ran when I was a teenager.  Even though I was disheartened at not being able to run the Marathon last year with my sister (who flew up for it), I thought the extra year to train would pay dividends.

About 1.5 months before the Big Day, I ran an 18 mile tuneup in Central Park.  To my surprise, I actually ran the entire time (i.e. no walking), which was the first time I had ever gone that far and even had enough left in the tank to sprint past people for the last half mile. I felt great and was super psyched about where my conditioning was.  That is, until I got home and felt my right knee lock up hours after the race and a pain I'd never experienced before.  I waited for it to go away which it did a few days later before running again. When I did, that new pain returned and that's when I started physical therapy.  After multiple tests, my therapist told me it was "runners knee" which is an inflammation of the IT band that goes down the outside of your knee.  It doesn't cause structural damage, but can get worse the more you run.  Therefore I got a lot of treatment and rested in the weeks before, hoping it would go away.

In the interim, I focused more on yoga and raising money for the American Cancer Society, the charity I was running for.  All of my friends, were extremely generous and I'm grateful for that.  My therapist recommended I put tape on my knees for the race and to get the tape to stick, I had to shave them:

I don't know why my legs look like Gorilla legs in this picture. 

Finally, race day was here!  I woke up at 4:45am, put band aids over my nipples, applied lubricant to some sensitive areas to prevent chaffing and biked to catch a 5:30am bus (thank you Daylight Savings for the extra hour of sleep).  I wore a sweater I would throw away after the start and shorts.  Thank God for the American Cancer Society tent because it was freezing at 7am on Staten Island and windy which is something that wouldn't go away all day.  I brought some extra plastic bags from the cleaners to wear which helped preserve heat and after 2.5 anxious hours the cannons went off and the race started!  (Btw, a quick recap of all the crazy things I did just in this paragraph on race day in case you missed it:

Band aids over nipples - check
Anti chaffing cream betwixt my legs - yes
Wearing shorts in 30 degrees because I couldn't figure out how to take off sweat pants mid race - yes
Wrapping myself in dry cleaning plastic bags for warmth - yes, very normal behavior  

I'll never forget the beginning for a few reasons.  The first was because the view from the Verazzano bridge, connecting Staten Island to Queens was gorgeous.  You could see Manhattan in the distance and there was a police helicopter hovering right next to us.  I also remember feeling optimistic that I felt good and that my pace was where I wanted it to be for those first 2 miles going into the bottom of Brooklyn. 

I felt the first twinge of pain in my right knee a little bit into Brooklyn, around mile 3.  I was bummed that it hit me so early, but was hoping I could power through it.  Unfortunately for me, it intensified with every mile until Mile 8 where it was a 7 out of 10 on the pain scale.  As it worsened, I kept running by subway stops and the devil on my shoulder whispered how easy it would be to take one of them home.  He also reminded me that even at mile 6, there were 20 MILES LEFT!  How the heck was I going to go that far feeling the way I was. I decided to stop listening to him and just take the race in stages.  Get to mile 10, reevaluate.  I took my first bathroom break at mile 11 and when I stepped out of the port o potty, that's when the pain briefly shot to a 9 and I almost fell over.  I put a little weight on it, got back in the race and started running very slowly.  It hurt but I could tolerate it at around an 8 out of ten which is where it was when I ran on a flat course. 

I finished the first half in 2 hours, 8 mins, which was 13 minutes slower than my personal best, so I felt like I was still maintaining a decent pace.  I also figured out that when I walked like Frankenstein, not bending the right knee at all, I had no pain, so I figured, at the very least I can walk to the finish line.

When I got to mile 15, at the base of the 59th street bridge that takes you from Queens to Manhattan, I stared up at the bridge I had trained on multiple times and felt like I was about to cry.  I knew I couldn't run the almost mile long incline and that's when I realized, I wasn't going to come anywhere near my 4 hour goal time.  I only let that feeling last a few seconds, sucked it up, got to the rail to get out of the other runner's way and started the walk up.

That bridge was cold, windy and lonely.  Running the marathon is an amazing experience mainly because of the crowds who are insane pretty much the entire time.  From the moment we landed in Brooklyn, they did not stop cheering us.  I had friends that came to see me all along the route, and I high fived all of them.  The bridges didn't have any crowds.

I got into Manhattan and they spurred me to continue running even though I had walked the entire bridge. The depressing thing was that while my muscles felt good, but my knee was too painful to run the normal way.  I started adjusting my running style to whip my right leg around in a counter-clockwise semi circle so as to keep any knee bend to a minimum.  I don't know how I looked to all those screaming people, but I didn't care at that point.  In a weird way I felt like I was letting them down anytime I walked.  My name was plastered across my shirt and so many strangers kept calling out "C'mon Alex!".  My game plan was to walk until I knew friends were near and to run past them the best I could because, really,  I couldn't let them see me walking!

When I got to mile 19 I was walking more than I was running.  Because it was around 45 degrees and windy I was freezing.  That's when my friend Jay, who lives in Vegas and has run the NYC Marathon a few times, started texting me.  He keeps track of all things gossipy and told me that I was close to Pamela Anderson, who decided to run the race a few months prior.  To prove it, he sent me this:

I'm the red dot.  Pam is the blond dot.

Isn't technology great?  He told me she started ahead of me and that I was only a quarter mile behind her. Even though I really REALLY didn't want to run, he wouldn't leave me alone and told me she was slowing down.  That was all the impetus I needed and I started up again with my gimpy running style.  

She was close!  I gave it all I had, and still couldn't see her.  My knee was on fire and I had to slow things down to a walk for a little while.  I guess she did the opposite, because 5 minutes later I got this:

That made me want to cry again, but in a different way than before.  I told Jay she's too fast for me, and stopped trying.  That didn't stop him from giving me updates of course.  That point in the race was the first time we were heading south and going into the sun which warmed me up.  I don't know if it was that or all the endorphins in my system, but for the first time since mile 2, I felt ok.  I was able to sustain running, the weird style way, for a while as the crowds gradually reintensified in Harlem.  

After 10 minutes of running and getting warm, I looked up and saw this!!

She looked a little different than she did in Baywatch

That's her brother running with her who is an experienced runner.  He was being positive with her, but she was clearly not happy.  She hadn't had a lot of training and for being 46 I was impressed at how well she was doing, all things considered.  Once she stopped to walk, I couldn't pass up the opportunity and even though I hate being that guy, I had to ask her if she'd pose for a picture with me.  She politely declined and I told her, "No worries and good luck".  

That gave me a renewed energy once I hit Central Park.  The crowds were going bonkers and at that point I was running/walking 70/30.  My left foot started feeling like it was on fire, no doubt because my left leg was doing most of the work pulling me forward, but I had to keep going.  I saw 3 more friends and when I got to the bottom of the Park, I couldn't run or walk because my left foot had developed an serious blood blister .  I took off my shoe and started walking.  I was only a mile from the end, but I needed a break from that pain in my toes.  At least I wasn't thinking of my knee anymore.  

So many runners gently tapped me as the rain by to keep it up.  Between them, the insane crowds and the witty signs, I've never been surrounded by so many positive people.  I remember seeing a woman who had collapsed near there and I felt bad for her being so close to the finish.  

After 5 minutes of walking I put my shoe on and ran the best I could to the finish:

A few more steps, a few more steps

I crossed the line in 5 hours, 7 mins, well after of my goal of 4 hours.  I was happy, cold, relieved and in pain, more from my foot than my knee.  I took my shoe off again, grabbed the finisher's medal, a heat shield and walked the long miserable walk to exit the Park.  It took me an hour to get home by the subway and get into an ice bath. I was disappointed that I couldn't run the race I had visualized over and over, but given the hand I was dealt, finishing felt like an accomplishment.  I was really impressed with the crowds and so grateful to all my friends that braved the cold, windy conditions.  Definitely something I'll remember for the rest of my life and one I can check off the Bucket list.  

That's me in Brooklyn.  I don't know why my hand looks like Miley Cyrus'.  I can't take a normal picture anymore.  

P.S:  Best Marathon signs:

"Bloody nipples turn me on" - held by a woman
"Faster, faster.  Don't stop, don't stop.  (That's what she said)" - held by a man
"You're running better than the Government" - At mile 25.5. Think a Leprechaun was holding it.  

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