Watching the World’s Biggest Marathon

Here he comes!At 5:00 the morning after Halloween, we packed up the car, the kids and all of the crap that kids require. Still in a sugar hangover, we made our way through the dark into the beautiful state of Pennsylvania and on to the great city of New York. With porta-crib and pacifiers, blankies and a bottle (yes, still), diapers and dolls in tow, we arrived in Manhattan early that afternoon. While just a short seven hour drive from our quiet, suburban town, the lights and noise of New York City seemed worlds away. Taking it all in, we gawked as we passed mile after mile of skyscrapers, crowded sidewalks, and busy people. We heard police and fire engine sirens clanging, horns honking, and subways clickety-clacking. To my husband who had been training months for the New York Marathon for which we were making the trip, it might have been the longest seven hours of his life. He could hardly wait to get there so he could finally realize the events that had played out in his mind over and over as he trained and prepared for the 26.2 miles he would run through the streets of this extraordinary city. We arrived in the rain at the Jacob Javits Convention Center and hunted in bumper to bumper traffic for a parking spot within walking distance. After paying a jaw-dropping amount of money to park for one hour, we made our way into the biggest race expo I had ever seen. Seeing as the New York Marathon is the largest in the world, I suppose that should come as no surprise. With 50,000+ runners, the organizers have this thing down to a science. Runners are greeted by rows and rows of booths to retrieve their number. There are so many of them, the booths are broken into groups of 2,000. Then we were herded to more booths to pick up Andy’s race shirt. One booth for each size, men separated from women. Soon we were surrounded by racks of running gear and thousands of fit athletes searching for a well deserved souvenir. We heard people speaking languages from around the world. The excitement and energy was palpable. As a runner, I was feeling envious and wishing that I could get in on the action. Honestly though, I was also eager to get the hell out of there. A 27-pound child is too big to be carried around a convention center and after eight hours in the car with three kids, my patience was on empty. Note to self: Never let your husband talk you into NOT bringing a stroller into a large crowded room. Smile. I felt bad Andy didn’t get to enjoy the Expo for long, but he was ready to escape the craziness as well.

After checking into our hotel and finding Andy’s parents who met us in town, we all carb-loaded at a quaint little Italian restaurant around the corner called San Martin at 49th and Lexington. No, I wasn’t running the next day, but I don’t really ever need much of an excuse to eat pasta. After a struggle, the kids finally fell asleep. Andy’s parents stayed in our room for the night with the kids, so Andy wouldn’t wake them when he got up early for the race. We slept in their room for the night. It was an early evening for all of us as we knew the next days’  events would require a lot of energy. Andy got up at about 4:00; sleeping in compared to his produce salesman hours (he usually gets up at 3:30). He followed his usual pre-race routine, and was off to catch the bus to Staten Island before 5:00. I was up, so I decided to make the most of the time and headed upstairs to fit in a short run on the treadmill so I wouldn’t feel like a total slacker watching all the other runners. Five miles was all I could bare to do. I HATE TREADMILLS! Once the sun came up I could see more of the city. It was a great way to start off the day.

Morning Run

After cleaning up, we finished making our signs to cheer for Daddy. The kids were so excited! Then we bundled up in winter coats, hats and mittens. It was only in the 40s and very windy. We grabbed bagels at one of New York’s most authentic bagel joints, Ess-A Bagel on 3rd Avenue. This was the real deal. Totally worth the carbs! We headed to the subway to make our way to mile marker eight in Brooklyn. If someone could only have recorded us trying to figure out the subway, I could give you a really good laugh. First we couldn’t get the stroller folded up, then we couldn’t figure out how to buy a pass, then we couldn’t get through the turnstiles because the card wasn’t working and the kids were afraid. When we finally got through, we discovered we were on the wrong side of the track headed Uptown instead of Downtown. So we had to go back up the stairs, cross the street and do it all again. Hilarious now. Not so much then. I did live in Chicago after college for a couple of years and rode the subway to work every day. But that was 12 whole years ago and that was Chicago. This is New York. Totally different animal. I was actually surprised by how kind and helpful some people were. Others just looked us, probably thinking, “Damn tourists!” The kids noticed a homeless person hunched over sleeping on the bench where we waited for the train. Something they don’t see in Chagrin Falls. While very sad, it was a teachable moment. The kids were unenthusiastic about the subway this first ride. Later on during the trip, they got the hang of it and learned to enjoy it.

When we finally made it to Brooklyn, Andy still hadn’t even begun running so we had a good hour to wait. We got there just in time to see some of the wheelchair racers go by and then some of the male elite runners. The females had started earlier so we missed them. I was disappointed as I was hoping to catch a glimpse of my new buddy Deena Kastor, Olympic Medalist and current U.S. record holder for the half marathon and full marathon. Andy and I had the pleasure of meeting her a few weeks ago when she visited Cleveland for an event at our local Fleet Feet store. We also got to run a few miles with her. Anyway, we were too late to see the women. So we watched and cheered for all the runners who started before Andy. He had to wait about five hours from the time he got to the start on the bus provided by the race until his start time at 10:30 a.m. Poor guy sat there and froze. That’s like torture to make these people wait when all they want to do is RUN! I suppose it just goes with the territory if you want to run the world’s largest marathon. Good thing he bundled up and brought some “throw away” clothes. He told me later I wouldn’t believe how many clothes people left at the start. I sure hope they donate them and don’t throw them away.

I finally got word via the New York Marathon app that Andy had started. He actually also carried his phone with him this time so he texted me right before he was about ready to go. I convinced him to carry it so that we could find each other at the finish. We waited and watched thousands of runners go by. We couldn’t believe how many runners there were and how many people were there in Brooklyn cheering them on. They were three people deep in some spots all along the barricades. People were sitting in apartment windows above the street holding signs and balloons. All of them were yelling for runners they probably didn’t know. It was awesome! Volunteers on the street handed out pom poms and kazoos, shoe laces and even snacks. The kids struggled to see above the fences lined with banners so we took turns holding them up on our shoulders. When they got bored they would bounce around behind us. I was balancing my camera in one hand while I tried to perch John up with the other arm as he refused to let me put him down. Once we finally elbowed our way up to a front row spot when some fans left, we were determined to not give it up. Andy would be there soon. I received the update that he had made it past the 10K. We were on the lookout for Andy. There were so many runners it was difficult to get a look at everyone running by. We held the banners up high so that even if we couldn’t see him, he might spot the posters with his babies faces on them. It worked! From about 20 yards away I saw Andy pointing to our signs and he made his way from the left side of the road toward us. He looked strong with a huge smile on his face. I was so relieved. I get nervous before I watch him run these races as he has struggled often with severe leg cramps. Last winter he wore an air cast for three months after having a stress fracture in his foot from overuse. I still worry it might bother him again. But he looked great at mile eight.

As soon as he ran past us, we knew we needed to hustle back to Manhattan if we wanted to try to see him when he came back over the Queensboro Bridge at mile 16. We hopped back on the subway at the Barclays Center. John fit in a short power nap and of course didn’t want to wake up at our stop at 59th. We hustled our way to 1st Avenue and Andy called his dad to tell him he was just crossing the bridge. We must have missed him by a minute or two as once we got to where they came off the bridge we couldn’t find him. There were SO MANY spectators that we couldn’t even see the runners faces. People were standing on top of garbage cans to try to see over the rows of people three or four deep in front of them. We watched diligently for another 10 minutes until we eventually decided that we must have missed him. I felt terrible as I know he really needed the support to head into those last 10 miles. Based on his splits, I could tell he was maintaining a strong pace. I was pretty certain he would be able to meet his goal and finish under 4 hours if all went well.

Power Nap

After a brief stop in a nearby market for a quick bite to eat, we walked to try to see him near the finish at the bottom of Central Park near the Plaza Hotel. Everywhere we walked we couldn’t believe how many people there were. Not just spectators, but just people who live and work in Manhattan who were out and about doing their daily tasks. We were also struck by how many people were speaking different languages. Russian, French, Spanish, German and others. The crowd was the largest where the runners came out of the park. I didn’t think there was any way we would spot Andy. I held out hope and squished my way in between a couple of women also cheering for their husbands. My arm hurt from holding my sign up of John’s face. Finally, I spotted Andy just for a moment. But he looked like he was hanging in there and with only one mile left I was confident he was going to finish under his goal time. We headed to the finish line. The kids were losing steam and so was I, but that was nothing compared to what Andy was feeling. We were all cold and wind-blown. Andy’s parents offered to take the kids so I could get to the finish and the family reunion area sooner and get Andy his warm clothes. So I booked it. The police had all of Columbus Circle closed off. I couldn’t believe how many police officers there were. I walked all the way around the circle and up six blocks to the family reunion area. I received an update from my app that he had finished at 3:56:34! I was so proud of him! I began to walk faster. There are so many runners that the family reunion area is broken out by last name. Of course “W” was the furthest. They had to check my name and then I had to walk to another line where they searched every person’s bag and wanded them. I stood and waited for Andy, as I watched exhausted, freezing cold runners strolling past me, their faces white with salt. I stood there teary-eyed in anticipation. I felt proud, happy, and relieved. When I saw him we embraced. He was eager to put on warm clothes then we made the long walk back to find his parents and the kids. I couldn’t believe he didn’t just want to get in a cab and go to the hotel. He kept walking and walking in the freezing cold with sore, cramped legs. He never ceases to amaze me.

I have to admit that watching the world’s biggest marathon made me want to run one. The excitement surrounding this great race in this energetic city was contagious. I have cheered on my husband at three different marathons now in Cleveland, Orlando and New York. I was running with him during his fourth in Big Sur, California when we ran as a relay team. I ran about 16 miles of the race, and he decided to keep running after his relay leg and ended up finishing all 26.2 miles. I have completed four half-marathons. And up until this point I have honestly not really had the desire to run a whole marathon. I just began running long distance two years ago. A half marathon seemed out of reach for me just a short while ago. I met that goal and have continued to beat my personal record with each consecutive race. Finding the time to train has been the biggest challenge up until this point. Sure, the race itself is very challenging, but I feel like I am capable of more. If ever I’m going to be able to run a whole marathon, the younger I am, the better I suppose. It certainly isn’t going to get any easier the older I get. The foot pain I’ve been experiencing due to bunions on both feet is one thing that makes me less confident. I’m on the fence about whether I should go through surgery to relieve the pain. I just don’t know that I want to deal with the recovery. Perhaps it would be worthwhile in the long run. One thing is for sure, if I could borrow even an ounce of the determination and perseverance of my amazing husband, I am certain I could complete a whole marathon. In the spring we are going back to Big Sur to run as a relay team. Perhaps I will add more on to my leg of the race, or maybe I will take a page out my husband’s book and just keep running all the way to 26.2! Thanks New York for an unforgettable day watching the world’s largest marathon.

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