The final mile to the finish line wasn’t as tough for me as had been some of the others. As I rounded the corner out of Central Park I found myself wondering if I had been running so long that Arron’s matinée in Lincoln Center had let out. He had a triple bill yet again and I knew bolting across the plaza to Columbus Circle and beyond would be a push. He and Jim had planned to try to connect along Central Park South so I found myself scanning the crowd to my left for both of them as I made that sharp right turn.
Get the Party Started
Exiting the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was wonderful as it lead us into a little sunshine. The terrible winds let up a bit and there were actually some spectators on the off ramp as the Green start runners made their way toward a little residential neighborhood in Bay Ridge (Saturday Night Fever was set there). What didn’t let up was the clothing all over the ground. Crossing the bridge had given everyone a good warm up and a lot of runners were stepping to the side to ditch outer layers. I won’t say I was fully warm but sweat was starting to trickle down my back. I systematically unzipped my windbreaker then shifted it to being tied around my waist. I didn’t want to throw it away in case it became cloudy again. I could easily get chilled if I wasn’t careful.
The 5k (3.1 mile) point that was physically signed and soon after that merged with the Blue and Orange start runners on 4th Ave. This is where Brooklyn turned into an all out party. There were bands every other block and crowds of supportive residents/spectators cheering non-stop for us. The official course map states that Orange runners would be on the left and the rest of us would be on the right. As a left side runner, as soon as I got to the farthest point on my left I saw there were plenty of ways to cross over even more without disrupting the flow of the race. I made my way over to the crowds on the left, slapped 5 with some kids took in their great energies.
Under one of the huge interstate overpasses, a woman running just behind me commented on the back of my shirt (see photo to the right). In a sweet British accent she said, “Oh I love your shirt. Are you going to check off the boxes?” I replied that I was indeed and seeing as we were no longer on Staten Island, would she like to check off the first box. She was shocked and tickled that I was carrying a red Sharpie with me. As I dug it out I told her that I would do my best to keep pace with her. It turns out that she was fine with stopping to give my shirt a big red check mark and I found she had traveled from London to run the race. It was a really great interaction and one of the few that I had with other runners.
I had added my name printed on the outside of my sleeves but I was well past spectators before they read it to yell out their support. I would hear them call my name on occasion but more frequently they called me “New York.” I was just fine with being New York on this day. I was a part of so many neat slices of the city. I got the chance to peek down side streets, one that had some brothers showing off just how loud their sound systems were in their car. I felt a part of that NY beat as the vibrations shook the air and seemingly the asphalt I was running on.
I followed my fueling plan at miles four and eight as I was treated to bands of rappers and singers. I worked my red gloved hands as I fist pumped the air in appreciation of them being there. One fellow, mid-performance, tipped his head to the side and leaned in on himself in a shy gesture of thanks when I made a big red heart with my gloves for him. We were connected; spectators, runners and performers are the very heart of what this marathon is about and the beat in Brooklyn is a strong one.
The church choirs and 4 deep crowds along Lafayette Ave. were supporting us at such a fevered pitch that I forgot all about being concerned about the hill on that mile. I never felt Clinton Hill while the early brunch crowds screamed as if they were at a World Cup final match. I actually got a little disoriented and had to remind myself of what mile I was at and when I fueled next, this section had a park that looked a lot like mile 12 and I was worried I had forgotten.
It was soon after that things calmed down in Williamsburg. This very unique community of Brooklyn is inhabited by tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews, Sunday being a working business day for them. There was no cheering from them as they tried to navigate the streets we runners had overtaken. Now and then I would hear some music or a lone person cheering ahead. As I would pass them, it might be a single black or hispanic man standing with a small boom box in front of a firehouse, supposedly a community space where he felt he could brighten up this quiet stretch of the race. It was these single, dear souls I remember in Brooklyn, standing out in an oppresivly quiet neighborhood while determined to lift our spirits by clapping their freezing hands against the cold stares sporting side-curls.
It’s a Fine Day
We soon crossed under the Williamsburg Bridge and the number of spectators started to pick up again. The day was turning into a really beautiful Sunday, lots of blue sky with bold white wisps racing across it. The jolly section of Billyburg with its cafés and shops blended into Greenpoint where bands again joined in.
Not for the first time that morning, a runner near me shouted in delight and ran off the course all together. They had seen someone they knew and a happy reunion was taking place. NYC Marathon had over 50,000 runners and totaled more than 2 million spectators over the 5 boroughs so if you have never run nor attended a race this large you have no idea how difficult it is to connect randomly. The reunion in Greenpoint was a random one, a runner had seen someone she knew in a band and she ran right on stage to connect with them. Those rendezvous made me excited to finally see my family along the course.
I was set on enjoying myself and minimizing my discomfort for the whole race. I didn’t want my time on the course to go too long but when I saw a short line for the port-o-pots I decided to take a moment rather than try to hide myself on a bridge later. I also decided to ditch my jacket off the side of the course along with the many other layers that littered the streets. The mostly sunny day was still quite cold and very windy at the intersections but my arm warmers and neck gaiter were going to be enough.
The halfway point of the NYC Marathon is on a Pulaksi Bridge. On my tour of the course the Thursday preceding the race, I made a written note that the climb was a “little grinder.” I may have even said that out loud as I lowered my head to bear down a bit to get up the incline and back into the wind. I was feeling pretty good and whispered a soft “thank you, Brooklyn” for all of the wonderful energy it gave me during most of the first half of the race. Over two hours of smiles, cheers and tunes, I will never forget the people of Brooklyn.
Continued in Queens…
Random notes – added as I remember them.
The sections of my race recap have been published in 5 installments, one for each of the 5 boroughs: (Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx & Manhattan. The sections within the boroughs are given titles from songs that were playing on my playlist when I ran through those boroughs. Most of the marathon I couldn’t even hear my music because of the bands and crowds.
It is in Brooklyn where the first aid stations start offering hydration. “Gatorade and water at every mile starting at mile 3” is what we were told time and time again on all of the forums when Q&A were held. I saw the past courses had nice orange Gatorade tables set up (about 4 of them) that were followed by the same number of green Poland Spring Water tables directly following them. I was counting on both beverages at miles 4, 8, 12, 16, 20 and 24. When I passed the first tables at mile 3, I cut down through the middle of the road to avoid the cluster because I didn’t yet need hydration. I was instantly confused by a few things. Unlike past year’s signage and set up, there was only Gatorade and it was being served on green Poland Spring Water tables. I heard them telling runners, “Water is up ahead a few blocks.” I never saw any water until mile 4 and during the rest of the race there was no rhyme nor reason to how the color of the tables were but they eventually always had Gatorade first then Water second at every remaining hydration station.
As the title of Betty Smith’s novel goes, A Tree Goes in Brooklyn. The little know parenthetical title to it is (Robert Peed on It). Somewhere around mile 5 I saw a fellow snuggled up tight against a tree that was right on the curb. Granted it was a big tree and Robert was close so you couldn’t see his business but it was very obvious the poor man had to pee. Did I leave him in peace? Hell no! He had his name printed boldly across of the back if his shirt for people to cheer him on so I did, “Go Robert!”